Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) joined the race for Iraq's Jan. 30 elections at a Wednesday news conference meant to highlight his appeal to Iraq's diverse and sometimes fractious ethnic and religious groups.

Surrounded by women and men variously clad in tribal garb, clerical turbans and smart suits, Allawi pledged to work for national unity and move away from "religious and ethnic fanaticism."

"By depending on God, and with a firm determination and based on strong confidence in the abilities of our people, we are capable of confronting the difficulties and challenges and of making a bright future for our honorable people," Allawi said.

Allawi made the announcement on the last day parties were allowed to register. Wednesday was also the first official day for campaigning ahead of the vote, which will be conducted under the shadow of an insurgency that has made many Sunni-dominated areas too unsafe for registration to even begin.

Some Sunni Muslim (search) leaders, among them top clerics and Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, have called for the polls to be delayed until security improves.

Highlighting his goals, Allawi echoed other candidates in saying his party would push for the eventual withdrawal of multinational forces.

"Rebuilding the army and the forces of national safety enable us to work on asking for the final withdrawal of the multinational forces from our beloved country according to a set timetable," he said.

Allawi did not say how many candidates were on his list. According to the laws for the ballot, Iraqis will choose between such candidate lists, and each coalition will be represented based on the percentage of the vote they receive. Individual candidates may also run.

The assembly to be elected has 275 seats, and many other parties already registered have presented lists that include a full 275 names.

Allawi, a member of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim community and a former exile, was sworn in as prime minister on June 28 to lead Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government through to the Jan. 30 elections. His political party, the Iraq National Accord is an umbrella group of former Baathists and secular Shiite and Sunni politicians and was formed with CIA assistance in 1991.

But the Bush administration and the Iraqi interim authority is determined to stage the events next month as scheduled, regarding the event as key in Iraq's democratic transformation following three decades of Saddam's rule.

Although a minority, Sunnis enjoyed greater privilege under Saddam, who is also a Sunni, and many feel they have lost their ascendancy since the dictator's ouster and the rise of Shiite political aspirations.

Allawi's ticket is expected to face stiff competition from a coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance, backed by Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The United Iraqi Alliance is a group of political parties and independents that hopes to draw the bulk of the vote from the Shiite majority in Iraq and dominate the future assembly, whose main task will be to draft a new constitution for Iraq.

Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission has said candidates from 70 political parties and coalitions have filed to run in the elections, including Sunni movements such as the Iraqi Islamic Party, which last week submitted a 275-candidate list after previously calling for the vote to be delayed.

The new assembly will appoint a government and draft a permanent constitution. If adopted in a referendum next year, the constitution would form the legal basis for another general election to be held by Dec. 15, 2005.