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Iraq ex-PM says survives assassination bid
Updated: 2005-12-05 07:55

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraq's former prime minister Iyad Allawi said gunmen tried to assassinate him in Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrine on Sunday, forcing him to cut short an election campaign visit pursued by an angry mob.

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi gestures while answering questions during an interview in Baghdad December 4, 2005.
Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi gestures while answering questions during an interview in Baghdad December 4, 2005. [Reuters]
"It appeared to be an assassination attempt," the secular Shi'ite said; 60-70 men in black, armed with guns and knives, set upon his small party as he prayed at the Imam Ali mosque.

One took aim but dropped his gun, said the former U.S.-backed premier, who is mounting a strong challenge to the ruling Shi'ite Islamist bloc for the December 15 parliamentary vote.

No independent account was available and it was unclear just how Allawi's mostly unarmed group had escaped serious injury.

Police said two of Allawi's party were hurt when men with batons attacked them and they fled the shrine under a hail of rocks, tomatoes and shoes -- the latter a grave insult in Iraq. Television images showed people running as others threw sandals.

Allawi, who seems to relish playing up to a tough-guy image and once barely survived an axe attack by agents of Saddam Hussein, refused to accuse any group directly. But broad hints that Islamist rivals had a hand in it are likely to inflame an already bad-tempered campaign for the majority Shi'ite vote.

"We believe this was premeditated," he said on his return to Baghdad. "It was very clear that they had evil intent to kill either the whole delegation or at least me."

"One of the attackers, pulled a gun ... from his side and as he was trying to aim the pistol at me, the pistol fell from his hand," a relaxed-looking Allawi told Reuters.

"This is yet another sign that these people are determined to wreck democracy ... in Iraq and they are using this thuggish behavior to wreck the country and to bring about chaos," he said. "We are determined that the democracy will win."

Aides said his assailants chanted support for backers of militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose black-uniformed Mehdi Army militia rose up in Najaf against Allawi's U.S.-nominated government in 2004 before being crushed by U.S. troops.
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