Monday, August 24, 2009

Iraqi Shiite Parties Form Coalition Without Maliki

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 24, 2009

SAMARRA, Iraq, Aug. 24 -- Iraq's major Shiite parties announced a new coalition Monday that excludes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a development that probably will force the prime minister to join forces with non-traditional allies if he seeks to keep his job after parliamentary elections in January.

If the new Shiite coalition remains intact and secures a majority of seats during the Jan. 16 vote, Iraq's next government probably will be run by leaders with deep ties to Iran, which would considerably curb American influence here as U.S. troops continue to withdraw.

The ballot might include a referendum that could move up the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops to January 2011 -- nearly a year ahead of schedule.

The new Shiite coalition will be led by the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, a conservative party that is among Iran's closest allies in Iraq. It also includes the staunchly anti-American Sadr Movement, as well as a few Sunni groups.

Maliki's Dawa Party will not be part of the group because alliance leaders refused to guarantee that he would remain prime minister if the coalition secures a majority of seats.

The new alliance replaces the United Iraqi Alliance, which became the leading block in parliament after the country's first democratic election, held in December 2005. Lawmakers appointed Ibrahim Jafari as prime minister after that vote, but he was sacked a few months later amid pressure from Sunnis, Kurds and American officials.

Maliki, a largely unknown politician at the time, rose to power in April 2006. The alliance disintegrated soon afterward amid disputes between its leading factions, Maliki's Dawa Party and the Supreme Council.

Maliki became highly popular in 2008 as security improved and his government reached an agreement with the United States that established a strict withdrawal timeline. Politicians close to him did remarkably well during January's provincial elections.

But his administration has come under searing criticism in recent months as violence has surged and his government has failed to considerably improve the country's infrastructure. The most recent blow was a coordinated attack on two key ministries that killed more than 100 people last week. Critics, including top government officials, accused Maliki of being reckless by loosening security measures in the capital.

The new alliance was announced during a televised news conference Monday morning. Tellingly, the leaders of the Supreme Council and Sadr Movement were not present because they currently reside in Iran.

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