BAGHDAD -- With Sunni gunmen beginning to confront the Shia-led government's security forces head-on in northern and western Iraq, fears are growing fast of a return to full-scale sectarian fighting that could plunge the country into a broader battle merged with the Syrian civil war across the border.

With more than 100 people killed in two days, it's shaping up to be the most pivotal moment for Iraq since U.S. combat troops withdrew in December 2011.

"Everybody has the feeling that Iraq is becoming a new Syria," Talal Younis, 55, owner of a currency exchange in the northern city of Mosul, said. "I think that civil war is making a comeback."

A crackdown by government forces in the northern town of Hawija on Tuesday triggered the latest unrest. It has enraged the Sunni Arab minority, spawning a wave of bold follow-up clashes. -- AP

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