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Officials: Suicide bomber kills 20, injures dozens at Iraqi political rally

A suicide bomber killed 20 people and wounded dozens on Saturday at a political rally in the Iraqi city of Baqouba, officials said.

The bomber detonated his explosives as Muthana al-Jourani, a Sunni candidate for the provincial council, was hosting lunch for supporters in a large hospitality tent pitched next to his house, councilman Sadiq al-Huseini said.

Baqouba, a mixed Sunni-Shiite city some 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, has been a focus of insurgent attacks and sectarian conflict in the decade since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Violence is expected to surge in the lead up to Iraq's provincial elections on April 20.

A health official and police officer who provided details about the attack spoke anonymously because they weren't authorized to speak to media.

The police officer said al-Jourani, who was injured in the attack, had not requested any extra security for the political event.

Eyewitness Ahmad al-Hadlouj, a 34-year-old who was wounded in the blast, said hundreds of people had gathered in the side street for the rally. His father, a member of the candidate's political bloc, was also wounded.

"This is our blood (shed) for the people," said al-Hadlouj. "We will still participate in elections."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the police officer said the attack was the hallmark of al-Qaida militants who have used suicide bombers, car bombings and coordinated attacks to shake security in Iraq, hoping that will undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government. The hard-line Sunni extremists see Shiites and those who work with them as heretics.

A wave of deadly bombings and attacks in March prompted Iraqi officials to conclude that al-Qaida's Iraqi branch, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, has been getting stronger. They say rising lawlessness on the Syria-Iraq frontier and cross-border cooperation with the Syrian militant group Nusra Front has improved the militants' supply of weapons and foreign fighters.

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