Sun, Aug 09, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iraqi Shiite alliance could split, alternative allies eyed

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

The Iraqi prime minister and his allies could split from the main Shiite Muslim coalition ahead of national polls, shaking up sectarian politics that have accompanied years of Sunni-Shiite bloodshed.

Such a split could raise tensions between factions of Iraq’s Shiite majority, and would also likely force them to ally with minority Sunnis and ethnic Kurds to bolster their clout.

Sectarian and ethnic rows have hamstrung Iraqi politics, delaying much needed laws and fuelling tensions officials say are behind years of slaughter between Shiites and Sunnis. Tens of thousands have been killed since the 2003 US-led invasion.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI) were two of the main members of a broad Shiite Muslim coalition that swept to power in 2005 elections.

Dawa and its allies have since made major political gains at ISCI’s expense, after running as the State of Law coalition in a provincial ballot earlier this year.

“There is a possibility that there won’t just be one Shiite alliance [in the next election]. Dawa and ISCI will both refuse to play second fiddle,” said Mustafa al-Ani of Dubai’s Gulf Research Center. Sami al-Askari, a lawmaker seen as close to Maliki and part of negotiations for a new Shiite alliance said there was disagreement over what he said were ISCI’s plans to revive the 2005 alliance without first inviting non-Shiite partners.

State of Law wants to distance itself from a perception that it solely represents Iraqi Shiites, most of whom live in Baghdad and the southern half of the country.

“One of our options is to participate in the next election as the State of Law coalition ... If the prime minister and ISCI fail to reach a deal, we will work to build a national alliance that includes the prime minister and his allies,” Askari said.

Should the Dawa-ISCI partnership end, there is likely to be a scramble for new partners.

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