Tue, Aug 25, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Shiite groups keep Iraqi PM out of new alliance

TEHRAN’S INFLUENCE? The new grouping will include the Iranian-backed Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Its formation is a blow to Nouri al-Maliki and his Dawa Party

AP , BAGHDAD

Major Shiite groups have formed a new alliance that will exclude the Iraqi prime minister, lawmakers said yesterday, a move likely to stoke fears of increasing Iranian influence and set back efforts to end sectarian politics ahead of January parliamentary elections.

The alliance will include the largest Shiite party, the Iranian-backed Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bloc and some Sunni and secular independents.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party won’t be included because of disagreement over who would lead the alliance, Shiite lawmaker Reda Jawad Taqi said. He said a last-minute meeting held on Sunday in a bid to bring Dawa into the coalition had failed to overcome the differences.

The coalition will likely be led by the Supreme Council if Dawa stays out, something that would likely deepen Iranian influence in Iraq just as US forces begin to withdraw. The last US soldier is scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

The announcement was a new blow to al-Maliki, whose efforts to portray himself as a champion of security has been battered by a series of devastating bombings in Baghdad and in northern Iraq in recent weeks. The most recent of these struck the foreign and finance ministries last Wednesday, killing about a 100 people and wounding about 500.

The uptick in violence has heightened fears that Iraqi security forces aren’t ready to protect the people nearly two months after most US troops pulled back from urban areas.

Yesterday’s announcement also was a major shakeup in Shiite politics, which have long been dominated by the Supreme Council and al-Maliki’s party.

The coalition will replace the United Iraqi Alliance, which won control of parliament in the December 2005 elections but began to unravel later with the withdrawal of two major factions and bitter rivalry between al-Maliki and the Supreme Council.

Former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari read a statement, noting that the ailing leader of the Supreme Council, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, was absent because he has been hospitalized in Iran.

Al-Hakim was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007.

In other developments, attackers paid US$10,000 to get a bomb-laden truck past checkpoints and next to the Finance Ministry in last week’s attacks in Baghdad, one of the suspected masterminds said in a confession broadcast by Iraqi authorities.

The Iraqi military released on Sunday what it said was the confession of a Sunni man it identified as the planner of one of the two suicide truck bombings targeting government buildings.

Iraqi lawmakers and other senior officials have traded blame and called for investigations into how the bombers were able to get the explosives-packed trucks so close to government institutions.

the chief military spokesman for Baghdad, Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, said the man was a senior member of former president Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath Party who had confessed to supervising the attack against the Finance Ministry before his lawyer and the chief prosecutor.

The 57-year-old suspect, wearing a gray and white striped shirt, identified himself as Wisam Ali Khazim Ibrahim and said he was a Baath Party member and former police officer from Muqdadiyah, Diyala Province.

The attackers paid US$10,000 to a facilitator who knew the Iraqi security forces manning the checkpoints on the roads from Muqdadiyah to the Finance Ministry, Ibrahim said.

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