Major Shiite Political Parties Exclude Maliki in Forming Coalition

FILE - In this June 27, 2009 file photo, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seen at a ceremony marking the 2003 death of Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim in Baghdad, Iraq. Major Shiite groups have formed a new alliance that will exclude the Iraqi prime minister, lawmakers said Monday, a move likely to stoke fears of increasing Iranian influence and set back efforts to end sectarian politics ahead of January parliamentary elections. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
FILE - In this June 27, 2009 file photo, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is seen at a ceremony marking the 2003 death of Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim in Baghdad, Iraq. Major Shiite groups have formed a new alliance that will exclude the Iraqi prime minister, lawmakers said Monday, a move likely to stoke fears of increasing Iranian influence and set back efforts to end sectarian politics ahead of January parliamentary elections. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File) (Hadi Mizban - AP)

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By Ernesto Londoño and K.I. Ibrahim
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

SAMARRA, Iraq, Aug. 24 -- Major Shiite parties with close links to Iran announced a new coalition Monday that excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a development that appears to make him the underdog in the coming national elections.

If the new coalition remains intact and secures a majority of parliamentary seats in the Jan. 16 vote, Iraq's next government probably will be run by leaders with deep ties to Iran, which would considerably curb U.S. influence here as American troops continue to withdraw.

The new alliance and the likelihood that Maliki will be forced have to partner with Sunnis suggest that Iraqi politicians are increasingly willing to cross sectarian lines in the pursuit of power.

Maliki's exclusion from the alliance was not entirely surprising. Despite his considerable popularity, the prime minister has become a divisive figure, and a recent surge in violence has triggered criticism from Iraqis who view his administration as cocky and incompetent.

Because of the volatile nature of Iraqi politics and the fickleness of alliances, analysts cautioned that the political groupings are likely to change between now and the time the ballots are printed. Alliances could even be redrawn after the votes are tallied.

"All possibilities are open," said Shiite lawmaker Jaber Habib Jaber, who is part of the new coalition. "Negotiations are still ongoing with Maliki's camp."

The new Shiite coalition will be led by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a conservative party that is among Iran's closest allies in Iraq. It also includes the movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; the Fadhila Party; former Pentagon ally Ahmed Chalabi; and former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari.

Alliance leaders said they invited Maliki to join but refused to guarantee that he would keep his job if the alliance obtained a majority of seats.

Lawmaker Samira al-Musawi, who is close to Maliki, said members of the prime minister's new political wing, known as State of Law, were unlikely to join the new coalition. "We want to have a solid alliance that does not dissolve," she said in a telephone interview. Maliki is likely to ally himself with Sunni leader Ahmed Abu Risha, who gained prominence as one of the first Sunnis to join forces with the U.S. military in 2006 in western Iraq to fight the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq. In recent months, Maliki has also reached out to Sunni and Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq.

Deposed leader Saddam Hussein, who was Sunni, oppressed Iraq's Shiite majority.

The new Shiite coalition replaces the United Iraqi Alliance, which became the leading bloc in parliament after the country's first parliamentary elections, in December 2005.

The bloc chose Jafari as its nominee for prime minister, but he gave up the nomination weeks later amid pressure from Sunnis, Kurds and U.S. officials.


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