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Top US Officials in Iraq Call on Iraqis to Help End Sectarian Violence


The top two U.S. officials in Iraq have called on Iraqi leaders to pursue reconciliation and help end the sectarian violence plaguing the war-torn country.

In a statement released Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. coalition commander General George Casey condemned terrorists seeking to exploit Iraq's ethnic and sectarian divisions. The two leaders also called on the Iraqi people to unite against the terrorists and death squads responsible for the increasing violence.

Meanwhile, at least 20 employees of a Sunni Arab religious group that maintains mosques and shrines were kidnapped north of Baghdad Wednesday. An official with the Sunni Endowment said the kidnappers were wearing uniforms of the Iraqi security services, and the organization would suspend operations for the next week.

In other developments, at least 25 people were killed in several militant attacks across the country.

The violence came as the United Nations warned the escalating trend of violence represents the greatest threat to Iraq and threatens to erode the government's authority to enforce security.

In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, called the increasing daily murder of Iraqis on a daily basis a national tragedy. He urged Iraq's political, religious and community leaders to make it their immediate priority to end the spiraling violence and address the underlying issues threatening to tear the country apart.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

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