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Blast Targets Government Offices in Iraq's Anbar Province

With just under three weeks to go before Iraqi parliamentary elections are due to be held, another suicide-bombing targets government offices in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province. The explosion comes as political tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs simmer over a decision to exclude politicians with alleged ties to the Ba'ath Party.

The bombing in the Anbar province capital of Ramadi Thursday comes with just 2.5 weeks to go before Iraqi parliamentary elections are due to be held amid ongoing recriminations between Shi'ite and Sunni Arab politicians.

Officials say a suicide bomber blew himself up on the outskirts of the main government compound and alongside a commercial district in the mostly Sunni Arab town.

Ramadi Police Chief General Baha Hussein al-Qeissi says that a suicide-bomber, wearing an explosive belt, blew himself up near the entrance of the commercial district, and in front of government buildings, causing many deaths and injuries.

A twin suicide blast in Ramadi on December 30, targeting the provincial governor, killed 23 people and left the governor badly wounded.

An angry resident of the mostly Sunni Arab town complains that police are too busy protecting politicians. He argues that the police in Ramadi are spending all their time protecting government officials and government buildings, so they can't protect the people in the rest of the city. He insists that it is the ordinary people that take the brunt of these attacks.

Iraqi government TV showed images of damaged civilian vehicles and several shops, including a restaurant whose windows were shattered. Other reports say that a number of policemen and soldiers were also hurt in the bombing.

A crescendo of attacks and explosions in recent weeks has both Iraqis and the U.S. worried that al-Qaida and neighboring countries will try to disrupt parliamentary elections set for March 7.

Someone claiming to be al-Qaida leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi said on an audio message on al Jazeera TV, last week, that his group would do "everything in its power to thwart the election," which he called an "illegal farce."

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill also warned in a speech to the U.S. Institute for Peace that there would be some "tough and violent days" before the March 7 poll, and noted that forming a government after the election could also take weeks.

Both Shi'ite and Sunni political leaders continue to trade harsh words as the parliamentary election campaign enters its final weeks. The recent Iraqi appeals court decision to uphold the ban on several top Sunni politicians from running is also ratcheting up tensions.