BAGHDAD, Iraq - More than 30 people were killed in gun battles between Iraqi forces and militants on Wednesday, a day after a raid on a Sunni Muslim protest ignited the fiercest clashes since American troops left the country.
The second day of fighting threatens to deepen sectarian rifts in Iraq where relations between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims are still very tense just a few years after inter-communal slaughter pushed the country close to civil war.
The clashes between gunmen and troops were the bloodiest since thousands of Sunni Muslims started protests in December to demand an end to what they see as marginalisation of their sect by Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
On Tuesday, troops stormed one of the Sunni protest camps and more than 50 people were killed in the ensuing clashes which spread beyond the town of Hawija near Kirkuk, 170 km (100 miles) north of Baghdad, to other areas.
Sporadic battles continued on Wednesday and hardline tribal leaders warned that protests could turn into open revolt against the Baghdad government even as Sunni moderates and foreign diplomats called for restraint.