Dozens died in Iraq today while Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who leads a Shiite government, has pointedly ignored calls to build bridges with his Sunni peers.
The US, along with other countries have asked Maliki to reach out to the Sunnis to prevent the collapse of the country and foster national unity.
"There is a real risk of further sectarian violence on a massive scale, within Iraq and beyond its borders," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who urged Maliki "to reach out for an inclusive dialogue and solution of this issue."
However, Maliki has turned his attention to Sunni Saudi Arabia, accusing it of funding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an extremist group which led the militant forces which seized swatches of Northern Iraq last week.
"We hold them [Saudi leaders] responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that — which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," the Iraqi government said in a statement.
Today, evidence emerged that Shiite gunmen had slaughtered more than 40 Sunnis being held in a jail in Baqouba on the road to Baghdad, after insurgents attempted to overrun it.
The Iraqi military insisted that the inmates died when mortar attacks hit the building. However, a morgue official cited by the Associated Press said that a number of the prisoners actually had gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
The bodies of four other men, thought to be Sunni, were also found in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, according to police and morgue sources quoted by AP.
Twelve others died in a car bomb in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. Sunni militants have claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past.
Elsewhere, Kurdish peshmerga forces clashed with ISIS this afternoon after fighters from the hardline Sunni militant group advanced into a Shiite village south of Kirkuk. ISIS attacked a Shiite shrine before the peshmerga counter-attacked and drove them back, peshmerga brigadier Mohammed Hassan told VICE News.
In an interview with VICE News, Falah Mustafa, the head of foreign relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government, expressed skepticism that Iraq would ever be whole again. “Iraq is not our neighbor,” he said. “ISIS is now our neighbor.”
Kurdish forces seized the oil-rich city of Kirkuk days ago after government troops abandoned their positions. Mustafa said that it was unlikely that the KRG would again surrender the city, as it had in 2003.
Long Term Impacts
UN envoy to Baghdad Nickolay Mladenov told AFP that there was a risk of Iraq splitting up and the repercussions spilling over into the rest of the Middle East.
"Right now, it's life-threatening for Iraq but it poses a serious danger to the region...Iraq faces the biggest threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity in years," he said.
However, Maliki appears since to have decided to consider presenting a more united front, if only in the hope of getting the US help which would help him defend Baghdad from ISIS-led militants.
He also fired four senior security officers for failing "to fulfill their professional military duty," Reuters reported.
On Wednesday, President Obama will meet with House and Senate leaders to discuss the intensifying situation in Iraq.
House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been invited to the White House, McConnell said today.
McConnell made statements Tuesday on the need to assist Iraq.
In statements on the Senate floor, McConnell called for swift action to avoid threats to the US.
"The administration must act quickly to provide assistance to the Maliki government before every gain made by US and allied troops is lost, and before ISIL expands its sanctuary — from which it can eventually threaten the United States," he said.
The US plans to send around 275 military personnel to Iraq to provide security for the US Embassy and citizens still in the country.