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Iraqi PM Warns of Syrian Sectarian Violence Spreading Across Region

  • VOA News

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during Convergence of religions conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, April 27, 2013.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during Convergence of religions conference in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, April 27, 2013.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has referred to fighting in Syria as a possible cause of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Maliki said Saturday sectarianism is "evil" and can spread "from country to country." He said sectarian strife has returned to Iraq because it erupted in another area in the region, an apparent reference to divisions within Syria.

The Iraqi leader's warning was made a day after U.S. President Barack Obama said Syria's use of chemical weapons against its people would be a "game changer" for how the U.S. approaches the two-year-old conflict.

But Obama stressed Friday that more evidence is still needed, including how, when and where Syria may have used the weapons.

Speaking at the White House alongside Jordan's King Abdullah, the president said current findings are only "preliminary assessments" based on U.S. intelligence. He said the U.S., along with regional partners and the United Nations, will seek to obtain more direct evidence to corroborate the reports.

On Thursday, the White House said U.S. intelligence agencies believe with "varying degrees of confidence" the Syrian government has used sarin gas on a small scale against rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. British Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the U.S. report, adding that the use of chemical weapons would amount to a war crime and should represent a "red line" for the international community.

Obama said Friday that the international community recognizes it "cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations." He said as "horrific" as mortar shelling and indiscriminate killings are, using potential weapons of mass destruction on civilians "crosses another line" with respect to international law.

At least 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011.
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