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New Alliances In Iraq Cross Sectarian Lines

In Baghdad, Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading secular Sunni Arab politician, says his supporters will ally with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of the Shiite Dawa party, in four provinces.
In Baghdad, Saleh al-Mutlak, a leading secular Sunni Arab politician, says his supporters will ally with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of the Shiite Dawa party, in four provinces. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
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To help win their backing, Sadr's officials have insisted Maliki play a role in freeing their supporters in prison. Hazem al-Araji, a Sadr spokesman, estimated that as many as 1,500 remained in U.S. custody and 2,500 in Iraqi custody. Like other Sadr officials, he complained that security forces are still arresting their followers in southern provinces.

"There has been a step toward each other," said Salah al-Obeidi, another Sadr spokesman in Kufa, near the sacred city of Najaf. "But until now, Maliki's coalition refuses to give any kind of guarantees and any kind of details of the map they will follow in representing the provinces. This arouses many fears with our friends."

Earlier in his tenure, when his position was far weaker, Maliki courted the Sadrists. Last year, though, he turned on them, dispatching the military against their militiamen in Baghdad and Basra. This time around, Sadr's supporters say, Maliki seems to be trying to negotiate from a position of strength.

"He's not in need of the Sadrists anymore?" Obeidi asked. "Maybe, maybe."

But like Mutlak, he said they will watch the behavior of Maliki's officials in the provincial councils to determine whether they could enter a broader alliance in the next election. "Until now we haven't decided," Obeidi said. "Yes, there are big obstacles between us. They can all be bridged. But until now, Maliki has not acted on any promises he made us."

Asked if he trusts Maliki, Obeidi shrugged. "I don't trust any political figure," he said.

Special correspondents Zaid Sabah and Qais Mizher contributed to this report.


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