Provincial council elections in Iraq last weekend were overshadowed by bombings that preceded the vote. Demonstrators near the northern city of Kirkuk were allegedly attacked by government forces this week.
Political conflicts in Iraq reached the boiling point shortly after U.S. combat forces pulled out of the country in December 2011. Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq issued a call to arms against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, following the Kirkuk attacks.
Maliki called for an investigation into whether military forces fired indiscriminately on the protesters. U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that was a good first step from the Maliki administration.
"We welcome that," he said. "But we want it to be fair and transparent."
Maliki was quoted by CNN as saying a national dialogue could provide a way to settle lingering issues that could push the country toward civil war.
"We should not let those extremists ignite the sectarian strife in this country," he said.
Ventrell acknowledged long-standing concerns about the prospects for sectarian conflict in Iraq. There's no place for sectarian war in a democratic Iraq, he said.
"To the extent that there's this tension and violence, we'd much rather have the Iraqis sitting down and working through this in specific and concrete ways to work through their differences," he said.