BAGHDAD — Iraq's Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi formally threw his hat in the ring today for the nation's scheduled Jan. 30 election, announcing a platform of 240 candidates that is likely to become a key contender in the race.
But Allawi — who will head the platform — declined to release other names on his list and the announcement was delayed several hours this morning, raising speculation about last-minute haggling behind the scenes.
In particular, it was unclear whether Iraq's Interim President Ghazi Yawer would join Allawi's list of candidates for the new national assembly or form his own slate.
The deadline to make changes to the lists is Dec. 20. The elected assembly will be charged with appointing a new prime minister and drafting a permanent constitution.
The much-anticipated announcement came on the first official day of campaigning, but major political parties said they expected to keep a low profile because of violence in Iraq.
A senior Shiite cleric in Karbala narrowly escaped assassination when a bomb exploded as he was traveling to evening prayers at Imam Hussein Shrine, one of the most sacred religious places in Islam.
Sheik Abdul Mehdi Karbalai, a close associate of Iraq's leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was wounded in the leg during the attack, which killed seven others, including two of Karbalai's bodyguards. Authorities said 39 others were wounded.
Sistani has been a leading proponent of elections and helped craft a Shiite-dominated platform of candidates, known as the United Iraqi Alliance.
One of those candidates, Sayed Salem Yaqoubi, was assassinated last weekend in Baghdad, according to officials from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Election officials fear that the violence will increase as the nation prepares to vote next month.
In Sunni Muslim cities, such as Ramadi and Samarra, candidates have been too afraid to campaign, according to Alaa Makki, political advisor for the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is pushing for a delay in elections.
"Even the people who were distributing voter registration forms have been threatened," Makki said. "If we tried to campaign in Sunni areas, we might be killed."
Separately today, Ali Hassan Majid, the notorious cousin of Saddam Hussein who was known as "Chemical Ali" and accused of using poisonous gas to kill thousands of Kurds, will be among the first from the former regime to appear in court during an investigative hearing into war crimes.
Hazim Shaalan, the defense minister, confirmed plans for legal proceedings against lieutenants from Saddam Hussein's long rule.