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Top Sunni leader's assassination tests Iraqi stability

After Harith al-Obeidi was shot at a Baghdad mosque, President Jalal Talabani called for national unity 'in the face of powers that seek to provoke strife and destabilize the country.'

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A leading Sunni lawmaker's assassination after delivering a Friday sermon in Baghdad has raised fears of a renewal of violence in Iraq and prompted calls to resist sectarian strife.

Police said Harith al-Obeidi, head of the biggest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament, was shot at close range by what appeared to be a teenage gunman after Friday prayers. The shooting happened at the al-Shawaf mosque in the Yarmouk neighborhood of western Baghdad. At least three others were killed, and several more people wounded by gunfire and what appeared to be a grenade attack. The gunman was later shot dead by mosque guards.

Iraqi president Jalal Talabani called for national unity "in the face of powers that seek to provoke strife and destabilize the country." Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki pledged a high-level investigation and called it a failed attempt to plant sectarian discord.

A spokesman for the Sunni party itself, though, blamed Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) for the assassination. AQI considers Iraqi lawmakers part of a puppet government controlled by the United States, and in the past has claimed responsibility for killing politicians as well as attacking Iraqi security forces.

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