BAGHDAD:  Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pointed a finger on Saturday at the civil war in neighbouringSyriafor the return of sectarian strife toIraq, as a five-day wave of violence has killed 215 people.

And the head of the Sahwa anti-Qaeda militia forces threatened war on militants if those who have killed Iraqi soldiers are not turned over.

Sectarian strife “came back toIraq, because it began in another place in this region,” Maliki said in televised remarks.

A civil war pitting mainly Sunni Muslim rebels against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite sect has killed more than 70,000 people.

InIraq, Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence, which peaked in 2006 and 2006, killed tens of thousands. This week, 215 people have died in a wave of violence.

“Sectarianism is evil, and the wind of sectarianism does not need a licence to cross from a country to another, because if it begins in a place, it will move to another place,” Maliki said.

“Strife is knocking on the doors of everyone, and no one will survive if it enters, because there is a wind behind it, and money, and plans,” he added, two days after warning of the danger of a return to “sectarian civil war.”

A wave of violence began on Tuesday when security forces moved in against Sunni anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town ofHawijah, sparking clashes that left 53 people dead.

Subsequent unrest, much of it apparently linked to the Hawijah clashes, killed dozens more and brought the death toll to 215 by Saturday.

Iraqiya state television on Saturday quoted Sahwa chief Sheikh Wissam al-Hardan as saying that if those who have killed soldiers are not handed over, “the Sahwa will take the requested procedures and do what it did in 2006.”

Sahwa militiamen fought pitched battles against Sunni militants from 2006, helping turn the tide of theIraqwar.

On Saturday, gunmen killed five soldiers from army intelligence and five anti-Qaeda militiamen.

One group of soldiers were driving near the site of a long-running anti-government protest near Ramadi, west ofBaghdad, when they were stopped by gunmen.

They shot one of the gunmen, wounding him, and clashes broke out in which four of the soldiers were killed and another wounded, a police lieutenant colonel and a doctor said.

Gunmen also killed a soldier and wounded another in a similar incident involving a second vehicle in the same area, the same sources said.

The killings came after a Sunni cleric called in a sermon at the protest site on Friday for the creation of an army to defend Sunnis.

Sheikh Hamed al-Kubaisi urged each Sunni tribe to provide 100 people, and an AFP journalist saw between 60 and 70 men who responded to the call armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Gunmen also killed five Sahwa militiamen on Saturday in an attack on a checkpoint south of Tikrit, a police lieutenant colonel and a doctor said.

The violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that broke out in Sunni areas of the Shiite-majority country more than four months ago.

The Sunni protesters have called for the resignation of Maliki and railed against authorities for allegedly targeting their community, including what they say are wrongful detentions and accusations of involvement in terrorism.