Former Iraqi Prime Minister Attacked

By Saad Sarhan and Naseer Nouri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 4, 2005; 1:51 PM

NAJAF, Iraq, Dec. 4 -- An angry crowd attacked a convoy carrying former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Sunday, pelting it with shoes, bricks and rocks as gunfire echoed in the area, according to Allawi aides and witnesses at the scene.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, was unhurt, said Abdulal Wahid Esawi, secretary general of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party. The former prime minister, who is leading a slate of parties running in Iraq's Dec. 15 legislative elections, had just arrived at the Imam Ali Shrine, a sacred site for Shiites, during a series of campaign stops in the southern city.

Allawi later told reporters the incident was "an assassination attempt."

"After the prayers, a group of about 60 people dressed in black and carr[ying] daggers and pistols, started chants against us," he said. "We have seven bullet shells from the incident. One of them lost his gun when he tried to shoot me. We believe that these are hurtful rebels. This will increase our insistence to cleanse the country of them. We warn them that after the elections, we, the people in power, will pursue them toughly."

Also Sunday, Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, announced that security forces had thwarted a planned rocket attack on the building housing the trial of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants. According to a government statement, an insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigade had planned the attack on the proceedings, which are set to resume Monday inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone after a weeklong recess.

"This was an intelligence success for the Iraqi government. There is a lot of optimism in the air," said an adviser to Rubaie, who spoke on the condition that he not be named. "There will be additional security precautions and increased patrols. The attack was going to come from a Baghdad suburban areas as early as tomorrow."

A one-time ally of Saddam Hussein, Allawi quit Hussein's Baath Party in the mid-1970s, joining the Iraqi opposition and later developing a close relationship with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. During his tenure as prime minister, he drew criticism from other former opposition leaders for adopting what they considered a conciliatory stance toward former Baathists. He also earned a reputation as a hard-liner on security issues, sending Iraqi forces to support U.S. troops in several battles, including clashes in Najaf with supporters of outspoken cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose office is close to the Ali Shrine.

On Sunday, as a line of vehicles with tinted windows stopped near the shrine and Allawi stepped out, a crowd gathered and began chanting "God cursed the Baathists," said Bahjat Bahashi, 32, who owns a fabric shop next to the shrine.

When the crowd began throwing objects, and gunfire rang out, "Allawi's guards started shooting in the air to push people away," Bahashi said. "The police and army were in area but did not get involved. They put Allawi back in the car [and] the convoy left."

Sadr supporters had gathered in Najaf Sunday for a memorial for Sadr's father, a revered cleric who was slain in 1998.

Allawi is considered one of the few potential competitors for the Shiite religious coalition that governs Iraq and is heavily favored in the Dec. 15 elections.

In the Iraqi capital earlier in the day, Sheik Abdul Salam Bahadli, a candidate for the national assembly aligned with Sadr, was found dead in the Zayuna neighborhood, according to Sadr aide Mustafa Yacoubi.

Nouri reported from Baghdad. Correspondent Jonathan Finer contributed to this report.