Maliki warns rival Allawi over Baath party links

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BAGHDAD, Sep 19 (Reuters) Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki today warned potential rival Iyad Allawi that links to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party would be ''dangerous'' for his political future.

Allawi is a secular Shi'ite who led Iraq's first government after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam and has positioned himself as a potential successor to Maliki, whose shaky coalition government has been paralysed by sectarian infighting.

In a rare public attack on a political rival, Shi'ite Maliki rounded on Allawi after reports he had helped arrange recent talks between US officials and former Baath party members.

There has been no official confirmation such talks took place.

''I am astonished at the behaviour of brother Iyad Allawi.

What does brother Allawi want, does he want to bring back the Baath party to Iraq?'' Maliki told a news conference.

''I advise Allawi to stop doing such things because it is dangerous for his political future.'' Allawi's secularist bloc formally quit the coalition last month, further shaking Maliki's hold on power after the withdrawal of the main Sunni Arab bloc and parliamentarians loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Two parliamentarians left Allawi's secular list today over disagreements within the bloc.

Allawi, premier for six months from June 2004, is a former member of Saddam's Baath party who went into exile for almost 30 years during Saddam's rule and returned as an ally of the United States. He now spends most of his time in London.

A political moderate who eschews religious sectarianism, Allawi told CNN last month he was not willing to become prime minister of a ''sectarian regime'' but would play whatever role he could to change Iraq into a non-sectarian country.

Maliki said Allawi's links to the Baath party opened him up to criticism because ''they are connected with terrorism''.

''I wish Allawi was present in the political forces through his bloc, but not through the Baath party,'' Maliki said.

REUTERS SG RK2040

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