Suicide bomber kills Iraqi Sunni Muslim lawmaker

FALLUJA, Iraq Tue Jan 15, 2013 7:55am EST

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FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed an influential Iraqi Sunni Muslim lawmaker and his bodyguard on Tuesday in Anbar province, where thousands of protesters have been rallying daily against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Posing as a construction worker, the attacker targeted Efan al-Esawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc who once helped organize a campaign against al Qaeda at the height of the war after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, police and local officials said.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing but it may point to attempts by insurgents to fan tensions over the mass Sunni Muslim protests, which have revived worries of a slide back into the sectarian bloodletting of Iraq's recent past.

"One of the workers at the site went toward him, he thought he wanted something, the worker hugged him and then blew himself up," said Sadoun Ubaid, deputy head of Anbar provincial council.

"This man was targeted because he led the fight against al Qaeda. That is why they would target him."

The protests have become a serious test for Maliki since they erupted in late December after authorities arrested the bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafaie al-Esawi, a Sunni Muslim, on terrorism charges.

Sunni leaders said the arrests were part of an extended campaign to unfairly target their minority sect by security forces. Many Sunnis feel they have been sidelined from power-sharing by the Shi'ite Muslim-led Baghdad government.

(Reporting by Kamal Naama and Aseel Kami; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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