Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has blamed "remnants of Baath Party for creating rift" in the country and said he would not listen to those who spread sectarianism, as a wave of violence killed more than 100 people over three days.
Maliki called on everyone worried about Iraq's future "to take the initiative, and not be silent about those who want to take the country back to sectarian civil war", in remarks broadcast on state television on Thursday.
The Iraqi prime minister said dialogue and not terrorism and hatred was the way to answer legitimate demands. "If rift spreads, we will all lose."
Al Jazeera's Omar al-Saleh, reporting from the capital Baghdad, said, "In his speech he [Maliki] tried to reach out to his opponents and protesters in different towns and cities."
Our correspondent said Maliki had in the past called the protesters' demands as "stinking and sectarian"... But in his speech he took a detour from his earlier position saying, their [protesters] "demands were legitimate".
The violence began on Tuesday when security forces moved in against anti-government protesters near the northern town of Hawijah, sparking clashes that left 53 people dead.
A wave of subsequent unrest, much of it apparently revenge attacks for the Hawijah clashes, killed dozens more people.
The violence is the deadliest so far linked to demonstrations that erupted in Sunni Arab areas of the Shia-majority country more than four months ago.
The Sunni protesters have called for the resignation of Maliki, a Shia, and railed against the alleged targeting of their community by the authorities.