About a dozen people, some of them carrying clubs, tried to prevent former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi from entering a shrine Sunday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, and his bodyguards fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd, police said.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, was on an election tour in the southern city. When he tried to enter the shrine of Imam Ali, about a dozen supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr tried to stop him, police Lt. Col. Bilal Mohammed said.

Allawi's bodyguards opened fire in the air, and police officers came. The crowd dispersed and the former prime minister entered the shrine, Mohammed said.

In August 2004, when Allawi was prime minister, Iraqi and U.S. troops took over Najaf from al-Sadr's followers after heavy fighting. Many Shiites have not forgiven Allawi for his role in the assault.