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Jul 26, 5:48 AM EDT

Police: Gunmen in 10 SUVs seize Sunni head of Baghdad Provincial Council


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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Gunmen traveling in 10 black SUVs seized a senior Sunni politician who had previously been jailed on terrorism charges from his home in Baghdad on Saturday, police officers said.

It was not immediately clear if Riyadh al-Adhdah, the head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, was arrested by security forces or abducted, the two police officers said. Seven of his bodyguards were also taken, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

The incident comes at a time of mounting sectarian tensions, with Sunni militants having seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq and Shiite militias having mobilized to help the beleaguered armed forces fight back. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is looking to secure a third four-year term despite widespread calls to step aside over the crisis.

Al-Maliki discussed al-Adhdah's disappearance with Salim al-Jabouri, the Sunni speaker of parliament, at a meeting Saturday. The speaker called the disappearance a "problem" without saying whether al-Adhdah had been arrested or kidnapped. Sunnis have long complained of being unfairly targeted by security forces, and their discontent with al-Maliki's rule is seen as a central cause of the country's unrest.

Al-Maliki's security forces have targeted prominent Sunni politicians in the past, alleging links to terrorism. Shortly after the last U.S. troops withdrew in 2011 the security forces tried to arrest Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges, forcing him to eventually flee to exile in Turkey. Al-Hashemi, who was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to death, has denied the allegations.

In 2012, al-Adhdah, a medical doctor and member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was imprisoned for eight months on terrorism charges. He has maintained his innocence.

The provincial councils are the highest of the four tiers of local government in Iraq established following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled former President Saddam Hussein.

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Associated Press reporter Murtada Faraj in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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