With Maliki's party out, Iraq's Shiite coalition splits

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 24, 2009 

BAGHDAD — The Shiite Muslim political alliance that's led Iraq since 2005 appears to be breaking apart, with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's Dawa Party preparing to run for re-election independently of the other parties that had lifted him to power.

Evidence of the split was the unveiling Monday of a new coalition of the country's Shiite parties that left out Maliki's party. The three groups described as the main components of the Iraqi National Alliance are the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which until earlier this year was Iraq's dominant political player; the National Reform Trend, a group affiliated with former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, and the Sadrist party that follows radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

That alignment could leave Maliki looking to form his own alliance for January's national election, an effort that his supporters say would span the country's sectarian divides by incorporating Sunni Muslims and possibly Kurds.

Leaders from the new list, however, left the door open to Maliki's return, suggesting they think they'd be better off with him in their camp.

"I wish they were here with us today, and by God willing, the efforts will continue to unite everybody, and at the top of them, our brothers in Dawa Party," said Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi, a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq who was just shy of becoming prime minister in the votes that led to Maliki's rise three years ago.

Dawa Party leaders said they're still in talks on whether to join the alliance. They think they can win on their own, having garnered more seats than any other member of the alliance in January's provincial elections.

"We have the full confidence that if we go to elections we will win it because the citizens know we are on their side," said Waleed al Hilly, a Dawa Party member. "Our capital is our honesty with the citizens and that's what the provincial elections proved."

Kurdish parties haven't said what they'll do. They're awaiting revisions to Iraq's election law that will determine whether voters choose lists or specific candidates when they head to the polls Jan. 16, said Mohsin Saadoun, a member of the Kurdistani List.

Maliki has tried unsuccessfully to make himself the leader of the current majority bloc in parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, since the Dawa party's strong showing in provincial elections.

Lately, he has made overtures to Kurdish parties in Iraq's north. He built his reputation as someone who could act against his own sectarian interests when he cracked down on Shiite militias affiliated with Sadr in the southern city of Basra.

He strikes a tone as being above sectarian divisions whenever he speaks in public.

"We have only one agenda in Iraq, the agenda of the nation, the agenda of the citizen, an agenda of building and development," he said in remarks to tribal leaders on Aug. 15. "Let them stop. Let them stop trying to frighten the Shiite of the Sunni, and the Kurd of the Arab. This will not work after today, no Iraqi is afraid of another Iraqi ever — we are all brothers and have in common the love of our country."

His stature, nonetheless, took a dent last week when suicide bombers detonated explosives in front of two government ministries, killing at least 95 and wounding more than 1,200, and undercutting the image of stability that Maliki has tried to convey while American forces reduce their presence in Iraq.

"Obviously Maliki lost a lot of esteem," said Alaa Makki, a Sunni member of parliament. "He was the man who provided security, and now there is no security."

Iraq saw more violence Monday, with at least 10 people killed and 20 injured by a bomb in Wasit Province, east of Baghdad.

(Ashton reports for The Modesto Bee. McClatchy special correspondent Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this report.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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