The 41 candidates of the party's list withdrew en masse from the regional election in the province of Salahaddin "after they were threatened by specific groups", al-Juburi said on Friday.

Eleven members of the election commission previously resigned after receiving threats from fighters in Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Religious symbols

Earlier on Friday, the Iraqi electoral committee criticised the use of religious symbols in campaigns for the country's 30 January elections.

"The use of the religious symbols in the election campaign is totally unacceptable," said electoral committee spokesman Farid Ayar.

In Baghdad and a number of Shia-dominated cities, posters,
photographs and sayings of Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani and other top Shia clerics including those killed under Saddam Hussein's government have been used to back various candidates.

"We received a number of objections from parties and political entities who will take part in the elections," Ayar said, naming the Iraqi National Accord headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the pro-monarchist candidate Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussain among the parties who complained.

Ayar said measures would be taken to prevent further abuse of religious images and personalities.

Access to media

Meanwhile, candidates from smaller parties criticised the use of state media by members of the transitional government while smaller parties and independents have had little media access.

Aziz al-Yassiri, the chairman of the Iraqi Democratic Trend, accused the members of the government of using their offices to create unfair advantages for themselves in the campaign.

On 30 January, voters will choose a national assembly, a parliament for the Kurdish semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq and 18 provincial councils.