Iraq Election Campaigning Begins

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Campaigning for Iraq's first national elections since Saddam Hussein's ouster began Wednesday despite the continuing the violence, with the nation's interim leader announcing his candidacy.

One Iraqi official said Wednesday he hopes the vote on Jan. 30 will be a psychological blow to the violent insurgency that has plagued the country, reports CBS News Correspondent Cami McCormick. The election will be held to seat an assembly that will then appoint a government and draft the country's constitution.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's defense minister is accusing Iran of backing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq. Hazem Shaalann said Iraq has obtained information that may prove Iran has been backing the insurgency here. He also accused Syria of providing both funds and training for insurgents. Both countries have denied those charges in the past.

  • Shaalann also said that Saddam's notorious right-hand man, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," would be among the first to appear. Saddam Hussein himself is not expected to go on trial for at least another year, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

  • U.S. Navy investigators have compiled a catalogue of prisoner abuse cases that allegedly took place throughout Iraq, even before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, reports CBS News Correspondent Charlie D'Agata. Cases include the forcing of Iraqi juveniles to kneel while Marines fired off weapons in mock executions and the use of electric shock on an Iraqi prisoner. Pentagon officials say the cases of abuse are being treated seriously and investigations are underway.

  • Three Polish soldiers were killed and four wounded Wednesday when their helicopter crashed near the city of Karbala in central Iraq, a spokesman said.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's long-expected decision to join the polls was the highlight of what was a low-key beginning to the campaigning period, which many fear will be targeted by insurgents opposed to the elections.

    "The terrorists do not want these elections to take place, they have been very clear about so I think we should anticipate that the violence will in fact escalate between now and the 30th of January," former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer told CNN.

    Shaalann, who has previously accused Tehran of interfering in Iraq's affairs, said Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents, plus former operatives from Saddam Hussein's security forces, are cooperating with Jordanian militant al-Zarqawi "to run criminal operations in Iraq."

    Al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group is believed to be leading a brutal campaign of hostage-takings, beheadings and bombings that victimize both Americans and Iraqis. U.S. officials have offered a $25 million bounty for al-Zarqawi.

    Iran and Syria have rejected U.S. and Iraqi claims they support Iraq's insurgency, but Damascus has said it is unable to fully close its long, porous border with its neighbor.

    Shaalan's comments may have been aimed at trying to stir up sentiment against the United Iraqi Alliance, a leading coalition of mainly Shiite candidates, some with close ties to Iran, which is expected to do well in the vote.

    He took a swipe at an architect of the 228-member coalition and leading member, nuclear physicist Hussain al-Shahristani, describing him as the "leader of an Iranian list" that wants to Iraq to be run similar to its Shiite-dominated neighbor.

    Allawi announced he is backed in the election by a 240-member list of candidates meant to highlight his appeal to Iraq's diverse and sometimes fractious ethnic and religious groups.

    Surrounded by women and men clad in tribal garb, clerical turbans and smart suits, Allawi pledged to work for national unity and move away from "religious and ethnic fanaticism." He did not say how many members were on his list.

    "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.

    Allawi said his party would push for the eventual withdrawal of multinational forces.

    "Rebuilding the army and the forces of national safety enable us to work on asking for the final withdrawal of the multinational forces from our beloved country according to a set timetable," he said.

    In a wrinkle to the vote, Kurdish officials in Iraq's north demanded that provincial elections to be held at the same time as the national vote be postponed. They threatened to boycott the provincial elections if their demands, which include returning displaced Kurds to the ethnically mixed city, were not met.

    "If the local elections were not postponed, we, as Kurds, would boycott them," Kamal Kirkukly, a provincial council member and an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of Iraq's two main Kurdish parties, told The Associated Press.

    There was no suggestion the Kurds would boycott the national vote.

    Three Polish soldiers were killed and four injured Wednesday when their Solo W-3 helicopter crashed near Karbala, south of Baghdad, during an emergency landing caused by an apparent "technical failure," the Polish military said, bringing to 16 the number of soldiers from the Eastern European country to have died in Iraq.

    On Tuesday, Allawi announced Iraq will bring top figures of Saddam's ousted regime to court next week for the first time since they appeared before a judge five months ago, and formal indictments could be issued next month.

    Analyst Sajjan Gohel of the London-based think tank Asia Pacific Foundation said putting former leaders of a middle east country on trial for war crimes enters "uncharted territory."

    "We're dealing with an area which is still very unclear, unheard of in the Middle East, where former rulers of a country are put on trial for human rights abuses, so it's going to be a very fascinating time," he told CBS News.

    He said investigators are hoping that trying "Chemical Ali" first may strengthen the case against Saddam Hussein.
    • Joel Roberts

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