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Suicide bomber embraces and kills Sunni politician in Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) - A suicide bomber blew himself up as he embraced a Sunni Muslim political leader in northern Iraq on Wednesday, killing the man and four of his family a day before elections in the area.

Al Qaeda's local wing has increased its attacks this year, often targeting moderate Sunni Muslim leaders in a bid to ignite sectarian upheaval and undermine Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.

Pretending to be a guest at a family gathering, the attacker hugged Younis al-Rammah before detonating an explosive vest. Rammah headed the moderate Sunni "United Iraq Gathering" movement, a minor political group, police and local officials said.

"Body parts and human flesh covered the garden of the house where the attack happened," a police officer said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Hadhar in Nineveh Province, 80 km (50 miles) south of Mosul. But officials blame most recent attacks on al Qaeda's local wing, Islamic State of Iraq. Violence is at its worst level for five years, with more than 1,000 people killed in May.

Iraqis across most of the country voted for provincial councils in April, in their first ballot since U.S. troops left the country. But elections were postponed in the Sunni provinces of Anbar and Nineveh because of security concerns.

The election on Thursday to select provincial council members will indicate the strength of Iraq's Sunni political groupings ahead of a parliamentary vote due in 2014.

The suspension of voting has increased tensions within Iraqi Sunni communities who have been protesting since December in weekly demonstrations against what they perceive as discriminatory treatment by the Shi'ite-led government.

(Reporting by Ziad al-Sanjary in Mosul; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche)

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