The White House says it considered secretly backing pro-U.S. candidates in the upcoming Iraqi election (search), but decided against it even though the Bush administration suspects other nations are working to influence the voting.

"There have been and will continue to be concerns about efforts by outsiders to influence the outcome of the Iraqi elections, including money flowing from Iran," White House spokesman Allen Abney said Sunday.

"This raises concerns about whether there will be a level playing field for the Iraqi election. The situation has posed difficult dilemmas about what action, if any, the U.S. should take in response," he said.

"And in the final analysis, we have adopted a policy that we will not try to influence the outcome of the upcoming Iraqi election by covertly helping individual candidates for office."

A senior administration official said that deciding whether to covertly support certain candidates in the election scheduled for January was a "hard call."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House consulted lawmakers before deciding against the idea, which was first reported by Time.

Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said in a televised interview that the United States has a history of "overtly" supporting candidates for office in governments that are making a transition to democracy.

"I don't discuss covert programs, but I will say that we do have overt programs, and everybody knows about them," Powell said.

"We will be providing assistance for capacity building in parties so that we can see a political system come alive, in both Iraq and Afghanistan (search), and we'll be doing it overtly," Powell said.