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Bomb Kills Seven on First Day of Campaigning in Iraq

Among the wounded in the bomb was a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric. The representative, Sheik Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalayee, was the intended target of the bombing, according to an al-Sistani spokesman. Several of al-Sistani’s bodyguards were among the injured and killed, Hamed al-Khafaf told Al-Jazeera television.

The blast occurred at the western gate of the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad. No group had yet to claim responsibility for the bomb.

The shrine was targeted in March when a number of Shiite holy sites in Karbala and Baghdad were hit with suicide blasts and coordinated bombings that killed at least 181 pilgrims who were attending a religious festival.

Wednesday’s bomb came as security concerns heading into the January’s election were already raised.

With Iraq’s majority Shiite Muslims expected to dominate elections, many Sunni Arabs have called for a boycott of the vote, according to the Associated Press.

Al-Sistani has backed a Shiite majority coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, which is headed by Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim who leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution party.

Allawi announced his candidacy Wednesday saying he wanted to move away from “religious and ethnic fanaticism” if he were elected.

“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 after entering the race at the top of a list of 240 candidates for his party.

Each party submits a list of candidates and those parties will win a number of seats proportional to the percentage of votes they get, meaning that the names higher on the list are more likely to get elected. Iraqis will vote for a 275-seat Transitional National Assembly that will first appoint a president and two deputies from its members. Then, they will draft a constitution.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan accused Iranian and Syrian agents of helping wanted Jordanian al-Qaida rebel Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

“Iran runs a major terrorist ring inside Iraq,” Shaalan said. “This state is the prime enemy of Iraq.”

President Bush also addressed Iran and Syria.

“We will continue to make it clear to both Syria and Iran that … meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interests,” the president told reporters in Washington.

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