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World News

Iraq's Shi'ite alliance holds door open to PM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A new Shi’ite-led political alliance that will contest Iraq’s next election has not closed the door on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and may yet join with him for January’s vote, a leading Shi’ite politician said.

Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, September 19, 2009. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

Maliki may not have to formally join the Iraqi National Alliance, led by the powerful Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI), to ally himself with it if proposals for a looser “national front” bear fruit, ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim said.

“All the possibilities are still valid, and the negotiations are continuing,” Hakim said in an interview Saturday.

“We are working hard to attract more parties, and there are many parties that will not join this alliance but be our allies in an expanded national front, including (Maliki’s) Dawa Party, which might join the coalition or the front.”

The election is viewed as pivotal as Iraq emerges from years of sectarian slaughter unleashed by the U.S. invasion in which tens of thousands of Shi’ites and Sunnis died. Rivalry between majority Shi’ites is seen as a new potential threat to Iraq’s stability as its sectarian struggles fade.

PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

Maliki is seeking to claim credit for a sharp drop in overall violence as U.S. forces begin a gradual drawdown that will see the last American soldier withdraw by end-2011.

Yet frequent bombings by suspected insurgents, including two truck bombs on August 19 that killed 95 people outside two government ministries in Baghdad, have shaken public confidence in the security forces and the authorities.

The exclusion from the Iraqi National Alliance of the Dawa Party fueled speculation the increasingly assertive prime minister may run on his own in January’s parliamentary election.

Maliki’s growing influence, especially after his allies routed ISCI in many parts of the Shi’ite south in a provincial election in January, has alarmed the political partners who propelled him into the premiership after the last vote in 2005. They had expected him to be weak and malleable.

ISCI in particular, and the movement of fiery anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, have held huge sway over Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and gave the country’s Shi’ite majority political clout. The Sadrists are part of the INA.

The INA includes a few Kurds and Sunnis but is essentially Shi’ite. Both Sadr and ISCI are close to Tehran.

Maliki has said he wants to contest the election at the head of a broader, non-sectarian alliance, but politicians say a reason he did not join the INA was because it refused to guarantee him the prime minister’s post again, or to give his small Dawa party greater say.

Hakim, who took over ISCI this month after the death, from cancer, of his father Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, said the question of who would become Iraq’s next prime minister should be left until after the election.

“In ISCI we have no taboos about who should be prime minister, and we will deal with this point according to the result of the election,” he said.

Editing by Tim Cocks

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