Candidates' Withdrawal Sought

The head of Iraq's largest parliamentary bloc called Tuesday for smaller Shiite parties to keep from diluting the vote for his group by withdrawing, alleging that some were fronts for Saddam Hussein's former Baath Party.

United Iraqi Alliance head Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, whose group holds 140 seats in the 275-member parliament, appeared to be accusing former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Baathist.

Fellow Shiites have charged that Allawi is bringing former Baathists back into the government, police and army. Allawi has said former Baathists who have not committed crimes should be integrated into society.

Allawi is running for parliament in the Dec. 15 election at the head of a broad-based ticket that includes several prominent Sunni Arabs. His party holds 40 seats.

The United Iraqi Alliance is expected to win the largest number of seats in the election. The group received a major boost last week when the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, gave them his indirect support.

Al-Hakim told thousands of people at a sports stadium in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, Tuesday that some Shiite slates already have withdrawn to clear the way for the United Iraqi Alliance.

"We expect that our brothers in small parties will withdraw in the interest of the United Iraqi Alliance, so that the votes are not scattered," the black-turbaned cleric said. He was surrounded by officials from his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's largest Shiite political group.

"Some slates that are running in the elections are trying to bring back Baathists and Saddamists with new names," al-Hakim said.

On Sunday, about a dozen men, some armed with clubs, tried to block Allawi from entering the Imam Ali mosque, one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq. Allawi's bodyguards fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd. The former prime minister said the incident was an assassination attempt.