A Sunni Arab coalition on Friday submitted its list of candidates for the December national election, joining other political factions in the race and signaling greater Sunni participation in a process Washington hopes will help speed the day when US soldiers can go home.
Also Friday, the US command announced that five more US service members have been killed in Iraq, indicating the challenges still facing the US and its partners as Iraq approaches a decisive stage in its political development.
At least 16 coalitions as well as an undetermined number of parties and independents met the Friday deadline for filing their candidacies for the Dec. 15 election, when voters select a 275-member parliament to serve for four years.
It will be the first full-term parliament in Iraq since former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed after the US-led invasion of 2003.
The December election follows the Oct. 15 ratification of the new Constitution, which many Sunni Arabs opposed. Despite the failure of Sunni Arabs to block the charter, the decision by a Sunni coalition to participate and the presence of prominent Sunnis on other tickets indicated that many members of the community, which forms the core of the insurgency, have not abandoned the political process.
Political battle lines, in fact, have been drawn as before along ethnic and religious lines, a development that makes nation-building more complicated.
The major blocs include a Shiite alliance built around two religious parties with ties to Iran, a broad coalition led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and the Sunni Arabs. Iraq's two main Kurdish parties will run on a single ticket.
Allawi's ticket includes several prominent Sunni Arabs, including Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer and Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, as well as the communists. It hopes to appeal to Iraqis fed up with religiously based politics.
But the ethnic and religious character of most of the tickets illustrates the sectarian nature of Iraq's postwar politics. Following the collapse of Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime, majority Shiites and Kurds have been pressing for the power so long denied them.
Many Sunni Arabs believed the Americans and their foreign allies favored the Shiites and Kurds, thereby fueling the insurgency and triggering sectarian reprisal killings which have sharpened the religious and ethnic fault lines.
US Deaths rise
The US military said a soldier died of injuries suffered on Thursday when his patrol hit a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad. When other soldiers arrived as a rescue team, a second roadside bomb exploded, killing another soldier, the military said.
In Saqlawiyah, 70km west of Baghdad, two marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), were killed by mortar or rocket fire, one immediately and one later of his injuries, the military said.
That same day, an army soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) was killed when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb explosion in Ramadi, 115km west of Baghdad, the military said.
With many Sunni Arabs having boycotted the Jan. 30 balloting, the Shiite coalition -- the United Iraqi Alliance -- won about 140 of parliament's 275 seats in the Jan. 30 vote. The Kurds captured another 75 seats, disproportionately greater than their share of the population, estimated at 15-20 percent.