[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 18:16 GMT
Bomb blast strikes Iraq holy city
Imam Hussein shrine, Karbala (file photo)
Sistani's spokesman said the bomb might be an assassination bid
At least seven people have been killed and 30 injured in a bomb explosion in Iraq's holy city of Karbala.

The blast at the gate to a major Shia shrine, the Imam Hussein mausoleum, was the first serious attack in the city for several months.

An aide to Iraq's most senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was said to be among the wounded.

It came as campaigning for elections in January began and interim PM Iyad Allawi declared his candidacy.

Bodyguards killed

Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbalai, the local representative of Ayatollah Sistani, was said to be among those hurt in Wednesday's attack.

A spokesman for Ayatollah Sistani told al-Jazeera television station the bomb was probably an attempt to assassinate the cleric.

Mr Karbalai was reported to be seriously injured and several of his bodyguards were among those killed in the explosion.

At least 85 people died and 230 were wounded in March when co-ordinated explosions near Karbala's main mosque targeted Shias who were celebrating a holy ritual.

Wednesday's blast came on the first day of campaigning for elections scheduled next month but it was unclear if there was any political motive.

A senior American general admitted that insurgency in Iraq "has become more effective".

Air Force Lt Gen Lance Smith said explosive attacks on US supply lines were slowing military operations and hindering the country's reconstruction.

Political blocs

On 30 January, voters will elect a 275-member assembly that will appoint a government and draft a constitution.

A man puts up a poster of Iyad Allawi
Allawi will be backed at the polls by a 240-member list of candidates

Speaking on the first official day of campaigning, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced he would stand at the polls backed by a 240-member list of candidates from his Iraqi National Accord party intended to have a broad appeal.

Electoral authorities say about 80 political blocs have registered to take part in the poll, including Sunni Muslim blocs.

They had threatened to boycott the vote amid fears it could be disrupted by the violent insurgency that continues to rage in Sunni areas.

BBC correspondent Peter Greste in Baghdad says it is hard to overstate the scale of the mountain that Iraq's democracy still has to climb.

Scheduled for 30 Jan
Voters to elect 275-member transitional assembly
Kurds also to pick 111-member autonomous parliament
Campaigning begins 15 Dec
230 parties running in about 80 blocs
Proportional representation based on party lists
Candidates must by over 30 and one third must be women
Militias, ex-top Baathists and current army officials barred
Balloting to take place in some 9,000 polling stations

The authorities must set up the physical electoral infrastructure across the country, including in places where the insurgency is still highly active.

More than 230 parties and groups, gathered into about 80 blocs or alliances, have to try to sell their messages amid the violence and chaos.

The campaigning begins a day after Mr Allawi announced that leaders in Saddam Hussein's regime would go on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes as early as next week.

The first to appear would be Ali Hassan al-Majid - better known as "Chemical Ali".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific