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.
"It appeared to be an assassination attempt," the secular Shi'ite
said on his return to Baghdad from the holy city of Najaf.
He said 60-70 men in black, armed with guns and knives, set upon his party
as he prayed at the Imam Ali mosque.
A crowd hurling shoes, rocks and tomatoes forced former Prime Minister Iyad
Allawi to cut short a visit on Sunday to Iraq's holiest Shi'ite shrine during
a campaign trip to the city of Najaf, police officers said.
A spokeswoman for Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, said she had no information
on the incident but confirmed that Allawi, who is challenging the ruling Shi'ite
Islamist Alliance bloc at next week's parliamentary election, had been in
Najaf during the day.
A police captain, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a large crowd
of worshippers at the Imam Ali mosque hurled sandals and shoes at Allawi --
a grave insult in Iraqi culture.
A second police officer said some of Allawi's bodyguards fired in the air
to disperse the crowd and that also threw rocks, sticks, tomatoes and other
projectiles. Police also intervened to break up the disturbance, he said.
Both policemen said they believed supporters of militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr
were responsible for the disturbances, though evidence for this was unclear.
"When Allawi entered the shrine, a few people, believed to be Sadrists
picked up batons and threatened to attack him," the police captain said
at the scene after the incident.
"His American and Iraqi guards fired in the air when everyone started
throwing shoes and sandals at him."