updated 1/16/2005 4:55:30 PM ET 2005-01-16T21:55:30

Gunmen in police uniform on Sunday ambushed a car carrying a prominent female Shiite candidate in this month's general election, but she escaped injury when her bodyguards returned fire, one of her aides said.

Salama al-Khafaji was traveling in central Baghdad when gunmen opened fire about 1 p.m. from a car and a motorcycle, according to the aide, Sheik Fateh Kashf al-Ghataa, who riding with her. Their security guards returned fire and the gunmen fled.

The attack was the second attempt on al-Khafaji's life since May, when gunmen ambushed her convoy as she headed back to Baghdad from the holy Shiite city of Najaf south of the capital. Her son and one of her bodyguards were killed in that attack.

Sunday's ambush was the latest in a series of election-linked violence and intimidation by insurgents seeking to prevent the Jan. 30 vote. Several election workers have been killed and scores have quit their jobs in fear for their lives.

Al-Khafaji is running on a mostly Shiite ticket that enjoys the tacit support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric. The ticket is expected to secure a comfortable victory in the landmark ballot.

Al-Khafaji was one of three women in the U.S.-appointed, 25-member Iraqi Governing Council set up to help the Americans run the country until an interim government was installed in June. She is currently a member of an unelected chamber that oversees the work of the interim government.

Both the government and the chamber will step down after Jan. 30, when voters will elect a 275-seat assembly that will draft a permanent constitution and appoint a new government.

The insurgents, a mix of Sunni Arab militants, former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party and al-Qaida-linked terrorists, are widely thought responsible for the assassination of Shiite clerics, politicians and the bombing of Shiite pilgrims at holy sites last year.

Iraq's majority Shiites are embracing the Jan. 30 vote, which is expected to confirm their new status as Iraq's single most dominant group. The Sunni Arab minority that had sidelined them for decades is not keen on the vote, fearing a loss of power.

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