An alliance of major Shiite religious parties, which swept Iraq's historic election in January, has agreed to remain together to contest next month's parliamentary ballot, an official said Friday. The United Iraqi Alliance could ensure that its religious parties, which all have strong Iranian ties, remain a prominent force in the new Iraqi parliament.
The alliance's decision also appeared to indicate that the election on Dec. 15 will once be contested along ethnic and sectarian lines: the main Shiite coalition, secular alliances of Shiites and Sunnis, and separate Sunni Arab and Kurdish slates.
But behind-the-scene talks by the parties remained under way ahead of Friday night's deadline for them to submit their final list of coalition candidates to the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, or IECI.
The United Iraqi Alliance includes Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, Shiite cleric Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim's Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Sadrist movement of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and Fadhila party, a Shiite group whose spiritual leader is al-Sadr's late father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.
"The final shape of the United Iraqi Alliance list is complete, and it is going to be submitted today to the IECI. It contains its four major parties," Sheik Khalid AL-Atiya, a senior official of the Dawa Party, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.
The alliance currently controls 146 of the 275 seats in Iraq's National Assembly. But the coalition is not expected to do as well as it did in the January election.
Most of its success then was credited to the support of Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But associates of the Iranian-born al-Sistani have said that the 76-year-old cleric does not intend to publicly support the United Iraqi Alliance, as he did in January, because of his disappointment with the performance with al-Jaafari's government, according to the AP.
The Jan. 30 election, which chose Iraq's current parliament, was boycotted by most Sunni Arabs, embittered over the loss of the domination they had enjoyed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni.
But many Sunni Arabs voted in the Oct. 15 constitutional referendum, and many also plan to take part in the Dec. 15 election in an effort to win more seats in parliament.
On Wednesday, leaders of the three Sunni groups, the General Conference for the People of Iraq, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Dialogue, announced they would field a joint slate of candidates and work together in the new parliament to promote Sunni interests. Its agenda is expected to include a call for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq, if progress can be made in building national institutions.
Iraq's two largest Kurdish parties, President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Masoud Barzani, also have announced that their alliance will remain in place for the December vote.