By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) An alliance of major
Shiite religious parties, which swept Iraq's historic election in January,
has agreed to remain together to contest next month's parliamentary ballot,
an official said Friday.
The United Iraqi Alliance could ensure that its religious parties,
which all have strong Iranian ties, remain a prominent force in the new
The alliance's decision also appeared to indicate that the election
on Dec. 15 will once be contested along ethnic and sectarian lines: the main
Shiite coalition, secular alliances of Shiites and Sunnis, and separate
Sunni Arab and Kurdish slates.
But behind-the-scene talks by the parties remained under way ahead
of Friday night's deadline for them to submit their final list of coalition
candidates to the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, or IECI.
The United Iraqi Alliance includes Prime Minister Ibrahim
al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, Shiite cleric Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Council
of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrist movement of radical Shiite
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fadhila party, a Shiite group whose spiritual
leader is al-Sadr's late father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.
"The final shape of the United Iraqi Alliance list is complete, and
it is going to be submitted today to the IECI. It contains its four major
parties," Sheik Khalid AL-Atiya, a senior official of the Dawa Party, said
in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.
The alliance currently controls 146 of the 275 seats in Iraq's
National Assembly. But the coalition is not expected to do as well as it did
in the January election.
Most of its success then was credited to the support of Iraq's top
Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But associates of the
Iranian-born al-Sistani have said that the 76-year-old cleric does not
intend to publicly support the United Iraqi Alliance, as he did in January,
because of his disappointment with the performance with al-Jaafari's
The Jan. 30 election, which chose Iraq's current parliament, was
boycotted by most Sunni Arabs, embittered over the loss of the domination
they had enjoyed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni.
But many Sunni Arabs voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum,
and many also plan to take part in the Dec. 15 election in an effort to win
more seats in parliament.
On Wednesday, leaders of the three Sunni groups _ the General
Conference for the People of Iraq, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi
National Dialogue _ announced they would field a joint slate of candidates
and work together in the new parliament to promote Sunni interests. Its
agenda is expected to include a call for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces
from Iraq _ if progress can be made in building national institutions.
Iraq's two largest Kurdish parties, President Jalal Talabani's
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud
Barzani, also have announced that their alliance will remain in place for
the December vote.
Meanwhile, Shiite politicians were apparently continuing last-minute
talks in an effort to persuade Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former
Pentagon insider, to join the United Iraqi Alliance ticket. Chalabi ran
under the Alliance standard in January but is apparently holding out for a
promise of a greater role if the Shiites control the next government.
"I think that Dr. Chalabi will be part of the United Iraqi
Alliance," said Shiite politician Abbas al-Bayati. "He is keen to be within
the Alliance and the Alliance is keen to include him."
A Chalabi aide, Haidar al-Moussawi, confirmed that talks were under
way with the Alliance but said no agreement had been reached. Another
Chalabi aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not
authorized to speak for his boss, said Chalabi's followers wanted the same
number of places on the ticket as bigger Shiite parties.
In addition, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is expected to
announce his ticket this weekend. Allawi, a secular Shiite, is trying to put
together a ticket of secular-minded candidates from all ethnic and religious
communities in a bid to appeal to voters tired of sectarian politics.
In fighting in Iraq on Thursday, Sunni Arab militants killed 14
Shiite militiamen and a policeman Thursday in a clash southeast of Baghdad _
another sign of rising tensions among Iraq's rival ethnic and religious
The U.S. military reported three more American soldiers died in
The Shiite-Sunni fighting occurred after police and Shiite
militiamen loyal to al-Sadr raided a house in Nahrawan, 25 kilometers (15
miles) southeast of the capital, to free a militiaman taken hostage by Sunni
militants, according to Amer al-Husseini, an aide to al-Sadr.
After freeing the hostage and capturing two militants, the Shiite
militiamen were ambushed by the Sunnis on their way out of the religiously
mixed town, al-Husseini said. Police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said 14 others _ 12
militiamen and two policemen _ were wounded.
The incident underscores tensions among hard-line elements in Iraq's
rival religious and ethnic communities at a time when the United States is
struggling to promote a political process seen as key to calming the
insurgency so that U.S. and other foreign troops can go home.
Both Shiites and Sunnis have accused one another of kidnappings and
assassinations, especially in religiously mixed Baghdad neighborhoods and
farming communities south and east of the capital. Majority Shiites and
minority Kurds generally support the Shiite-dominated government, while
Sunni Arabs dominate the ranks of the insurgents.
Sectarian violence has complicated efforts by the United States and
its coalition partners to promote a political process, which received a
boost this week with the announcement that voters had approved the new
constitution in the Oct. 15 referendum.