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Gunmen kill senior Iraqi Sunni cleric

FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - A senior Sunni cleric from the western province of Anbar was shot dead on Friday evening, as tensions simmered in Iraq following an inconclusive election in March that produced no outright winner, police said.

Unknown gunmen equipped with silenced weapons knocked on the door of Imam Abdul Aleem al-Saadi of the city of Ramadi and shot him dead when he answered, the police said.

Saadi was the brother of Iraq’s most senior Sunni scholar, Abdul Malik al-Saadi, who lives in Amman, and was considered to be a moderate who opposed al Qaeda’s attempts to influence Islamic teaching, residents in Anbar said.

Police said they had no idea why he was killed and were not immediately sure if al Qaeda’s Iraqi offshoots might have been involved.

The sprawling desert province of Anbar was once the heartland of a fierce Sunni Islamist insurgency after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and in the grip of al Qaeda.

But local Sunni tribal chiefs turned on al Qaeda in 2006 and 2007, helping U.S. forces bring relative peace to the region.

Sectarian tensions have flared, however, since the March election, which has yet to result in a new government.

A Sunni-backed alliance won a slim victory in the vote but a union of the main Shi’ite-led factions is expected to take the lead in the tussle to form a coalition government.

Insurgent groups have sought to exploit the political vacuum since the election through violence.

Al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate claimed responsibility for brazen suicide assaults on the Iraqi central bank and the Trade Bank of Iraq last month, and police in Anbar and elsewhere have come under constant attack.

Reporting by Fadhel al-Badrani; Additional reporting by Ali al-Mashhadani in Ramadi; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Matthew Jones