At least 48 Sunni militants were killed in or around Baghdad last night, adding to already substantive fears of a full-out sectarian war developing in Iraq. As of now, at least 170 U.S. soldiers are armed for combat to protect the embassy in Baghdad, though President Obama says they will not engage in direct fighting.

According to The New York Times, four Sunni militants were shot to death in a heavily Shiite area of Baghdad late Monday night. This is the first instance in recent weeks of purely sectarian killing — the bodies were found in the street, shot through many times.

To make matters worse, at least 44 suspected Sunni militants were killed in a police station northeast of Baghdad after Sunni militants attacked it last night. There are conflicting reports of what actually happened — the Times only says that two Iraqi policemen were killed, while the AP reports that somewhere between 44 and 52 detainees, likely Sunni militants, were slaughtered. Three police officers told the AP that Sunni militants were trying to free the detainees, so Shiite militiamen shot all the detainees at close range.

Residents of Baquba, the primarily Sunni town just 37 miles north of Baghdad where the police station is located, fear war. Jassim al-Ubaidi, a lawyer in Baquba, told the Times, "The violence in Baquba will lead to civil war because the villages that surrounded Baquba are Shiite."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki has not answered calls to unite Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in the country. His close friend Amir al-Khuzai told the Times, "Now there's a war, there's not reconciliation. With whom do we reconcile?"

President Obama has said he will not help Iraq militarily unless Maliki comes up with a political solution to end sectarian conflicts. According to officials, Obama is still mulling U.S. airstrikes and has considered cooperating diplomatically with Iran. He notified Congress this week that up to 275 American troops would be sent to Iraq for security — 170 are currently protecting U.S. personnel and the embassy in Iraq, while about 100 are on standby, probably in Kuwait.

Sunni militants, fighting for ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have marched toward Baghdad this past week, capturing Mosul, Tikrit, and Tal Afar along the way.

[Image via AP]