Under the guidance of Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Shiite parties presented a list of 228 candidates for next month's parliamentary elections. Minority Sunni Arabs, who had been favored under Saddam Hussein, must now decide whether to join the race or renounce a vote that will help determine the country's future.
The announcement Thursday of the list of 23 parties, dubbed the United Iraqi Alliance, followed weeks of haggling. Members of participating groups said the coalition's platform would include a call for working toward the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops in Iraq.
"There must be a timetable for this," said Hussein al-Mousawi, an official of the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group that has some parties represented in the alliance. The candidates list includes two powerful Shiite parties, as well as an array of independent Sunni tribal figures, Shiite Kurdish groups and members of smaller movements.
Importantly, the roster does not include the movement of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who appeared to be waiting to see whether the vote will be considered legitimate before he joins the political process. With violence roiling the country and key Sunni leaders demanding the Jan. 30 vote be put off, a credible election is by no means certain.
There were already signs that Sunni ranks were breaking: One group that had called for a delay, the Iraqi Islamic Party, quietly submitted a 275-candidate list Thursday. Party officials told reporters they wanted to reserve the right to take part in the vote if the election is not postponed.
In violence Thursday, seven Iraqis were killed in clashes in Baghdad and the volatile western city of Ramadi.
A car bomb also rocked a busy vegetable market in the northern city of Mosul, wounding two civilians, while a US soldier was wounded by a roadside bomb in the capital.
Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appointed the committee that set up the 228-candidate list. He has been working to unite Iraq's majority Shiites ahead of the vote to ensure victory, and include representatives from Iraq's other diverse communities. Shiites make up 60 percent of Iraq's nearly 26 million people.
The major Shiite political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Dawa Party, were on the list. Both have strong links with Iran, a Shiite but non-Arab neighbor.
The 228 candidates also include independent Sunni Muslims, members of the Yazidis minority religious sect, and a Turkomen movement, among others. Also listed are members of the Iraqi National Congress, led by former exile and one-time Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi.
"I think that this list is a patriotic list. We hope that Iraqi people will back this list," said Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, head of the powerful Sunni Shemar tribes in Mosul.
Ali al-Adeeb of the Islamic Dawa Party said members hoped that forming the alliance "was a step forward in the political process through its participation in the coming elections for a beloved and honorable Iraq that is free from any foreign influence and ... enjoys sovereignty."
Al-Mousawi said the group's platform comprises 23 points, including that members "should work on the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq."
Abiding by electoral law, at least a third of the candidates on the list are women.