updated 3/10/2009 12:37:08 PM ET 2009-03-10T16:37:08

An influential former Iranian prime minister said Tuesday that he will run in the upcoming presidential election, posing what could be a serious pro-reform challenge to the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was premier during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, is seen by many as a strong candidate in the June election because he was once a hard-liner and could siphon votes away from Ahmadinejad's base. He announced his intention to run in a statement made available to The Associated Press.

But Mousavi may face a challenge for reformist votes since there are two other strong candidates from his camp running for election: former President Mohammad Khatami and former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi.

Some analysts have speculated that the reformists are fielding several strong candidates during the initial stages of the campaign as a way to diffuse hard-line attacks, but will reduce the number to one shortly before the election to concentrate support.

"It is likely that reformist candidates will get out of the race in favor of one, but this may happen just weeks before the June election," said political analyst Aboutorab Fazel.

Khatami has said in the past that he and Mousavi will not compete against each other, an indication that one of them may drop out of the race.

But Karroubi could complicate matters because he has repeatedly said he won't drop out regardless of who else is running against Ahmadinejad. The former parliament speaker gained more attention last week when Gholam Hossein Karbashchi, a former Khatami supporter and mayor of Tehran, became Karroubi's campaign manager.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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