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Iraq: Political Parties (Re)Align For December Elections

Allawi's Iraqi National List includes Sunnis and Shi'ites (file photo) (AFP) As Iraqi political parties and lists announced their intention to participate in the 15 December National Assembly election last week, new alliances were formed that reflect the changing political landscape. Some individuals and parties defected from the Shi'ite and Kurdish alliances in favor of forming their own lists that more accurately reflect their ideologies. Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted January's parliamentary elections, announced their own lists, which tend to reflect a nationalist, pan-Arab stance.

The Iraqi Independent Election Commission (IECI) announced that 228 lists -- including 21 coalitions -- had registered by 28 October deadline, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 30 October.

Defectors From The United Iraqi Alliance List

The more moderate members of the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) have withdrawn from the alliance, claiming that the alliance is increasingly Islamist in its outlook.

The Iraqi National Congress, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, left the UIA to form a new coalition, called the National Congress Coalition. The coalition list, which comprises both Sunni and Shi'ite candidates, is more secular than the United Iraqi Alliance.
President Jalal Talabani has also criticized the UIA for monopolizing power in the current government in recent months.

Chalabi told Al-Jazeera television in a 30 October interview that he left the UIA because he does not agree with its calls for an Islamic state in Iraq. "Now that the constitution has been is obvious that there is a need to have a list that represents a large segment of the Iraqi people who are faithful Muslims [and] who also believe in a democratic, pluralistic, and a federal system of government. They respect the religious authority but they do not recognize the political Islamic ideology."

Other members to the National Congress Coalition include the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, led by Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn; Justice Minister Abd al-Husayn Shandal and former UIA member and parliamentarian Salama al-Khafaji; as well as moderate political and religious figures such as Sheikh Fawwaz al-Jarba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2005).

Parliamentarian Ali al-Dabbagh also left the United Iraqi Alliance to form a coalition list called the Independent Grouping of Iraq's Competent People. The 120-member list reportedly includes a number of National Assembly members in addition to candidates from 15 of Iraq's 18 governorates. Al-Dabbagh said that he withdrew from the UIA in protest of the alliance's monopolization of power in the current government, where he claims positions were awarded based on membership rather than qualifications, Al-Iraqiyah television reported on 28 October. President Jalal Talabani has also criticized the UIA for monopolizing power in the current government in recent months (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 August 2005).

Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum and parliamentarian Muntasir al-Imarah withdrew from the UIA as well and formed the Future Iraq Grouping (Tajammu Iraq Al-Mustaqbal).

The United Iraqi Alliance List

Meanwhile, the United Iraqi Alliance announced its amended list, which includes supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who ran as independents in the January election. The 16 other parties to the list are: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI); the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party (both branches); the Islamic Virtue Party; the Badr Organization; the Justice (Al-Adalah) Party; the Islamic Hope Organization; the Hizballah Movement in Iraq; the Masters of the Martyrs Movement; the Central Grouping Party; the Iraqi Turkoman Loyalty Movement; the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkomans; the Justice and Equality Grouping; the Reform and Construction Gathering; the Iraqi Democrats Movement; and the Free Iraqis Party.

SCIRI head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim commented on the alliance changes, telling reporters in Baghdad on 29 October: "Difficult circumstances prevented us from including some political entities.... Therefore, we are announcing that the door will remain open before all the virtuous forces to join the coalition after the elections," RFI reported the same day.

Al-Sadr political adviser Abbas al-Rubay'i told "Al-Zaman" in a 30 October interview that al-Sadr supporters joined the UIA because of shared political goals: "the liberation of Iraq, the formation of a nonpoliticized army, enhancing security agencies without turning them into terrorist organs as they were under the [Hussein] regime, reactivating the Iraqi judicial system, improving the performance of the de-Ba'athification Commission and the Integrity Commission, developing Iraq's relations with neighboring states...and enhancing human rights."

While they may share common goals, the decision by al-Sadr supporters to join the UIA does make for strange bedfellows. Al-Sadr militiamen have battled militiamen (Badr Forces) loyal to SCIRI repeatedly in the past two and a half years, most notably for influence in Al-Najaf in 2004. Badr Forces, supported by local citizens, waged a battle to drive Al-Mahdi militiamen from the holy city. Multinational forces were eventually drawn into the confrontation with al-Sadr, who only ordered his men out of the city after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ordered him to do so.

But not all al-Sadr supporters will take part in the UIA list. Abbas al-Rubay'i said in a 26 October statement that National Assembly member Fattah al-Shaykh would set up a bureau in the governorate for a joint list with Sunni Arabs. Al-Shaykh told Al-Sharqiyah television that eight Sunni Arabs would run on the list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2005). He later told Al-Jazeera in a 30 October interview that while al-Sadr supporters are still working with Sunni Arabs in Al-Anbar, he is no longer involved, as he has been appointed head of the "al-Sadr bloc" in Al-Nasiriyah. He said that since an agreement was reached with the UIA, al-Sadr supporters in Al-Anbar would be considered "independents" in the election.

Other Shi'ite Lists

Former Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan also announced a list, named the National Forces Parliament, Amman's "Al-Dustur" reported on 31 January. An Arrest warrant was issued for al-Sha'lan last month on charges of corruption in the interim government, and he remains outside the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2005). According to the daily, the parties to his list include the Democratic National Forces Congress; the Independent Iraqi Tribes Group; the Al-Da'wah Party -- Izz al-Din Salim Wing; the Democratic Revival Movement; the Expatriate Academics Group; the National Unity Movement; the Southern Arab Citizens Group; the Educated People's Unified Group; and the Iraqi Arabism Champions.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who spent the past six months courting Sunni Arabs across Iraq, announced the formation of the Iraqi National List, RFI reported on 29 October. Allawi told reporters that candidates on the list will run on a platform of national unity, and the list's goals will be to increase security and economic development. He added that all parties to the list put the benefit of Iraq over their own personal interests. Allawi told reporters that the list seeks to build a democratic, modern, and open Iraqi society "that renounces sectarianism in political work and improves relations with Arab and neighboring countries."

The parties on Allawi's list include the Iraqiyun List, led by Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and Hajim al-Hasani; the Iraqi Communist Party, led by Hamid Majid Musa; the Independent Democrats Grouping, led by Adnan Pachachi (whose party failed to gain any seats in the last parliamentary election); the National Democratic Party, led by Nasir Kamil al-Chadirchi; the Arab Socialist Movement; and the Islamic Democratic Movement.

In a marked change from January elections, Karbala cleric Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i said on 28 October that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani would not support any particular list in December's elections. Al-Sistani lent his support to the UIA in the January elections, a move that some said helped the alliance gain more seats in parliament. Iraqi media has speculated that al-Sistani was disappointed with the UIA's performance in the transitional administration.

Sunni Arab Coalitions

The Iraqi Islamic Party, Iraqi National Dialogue Council, and the Iraqi People's Conference announced on 26 October that they would participate in the election as a coalition list named the Iraqi Accordance Front (Jabhat Al-Tawafuq Al-Iraqiyah), RFI reported the same day. Iraqi People's Conference Secretary-General Adnan al-Dulaymi told reporters during the 26 October announcement in Baghdad that the door is open for other political groups to join the coalition.

Sunni leader Salih al-Mutlaq opted not to join the Iraqi Accordance Front, preferring instead to form a coalition that is not sectarian-based. "The majority of the National Dialogue Council insists that the list is a national list that includes Iraqis from Al-Basrah to Al-Sulaymaniyah," al-Mutlaq said. "There is no room for us to be narrow-minded and focus on a sectarian bloc or entity, because this constitutes great damage to the country's interests. We know that we may lose some votes. However, the national project must succeed," he told Al-Arabiyah television on 26 October.

Al-Mutlaq announced his list, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, on 1 November, saying the list comprises figures representing all Iraqi sects, RFI reported on the same day. The list's platform is based on ending the occupation, rebuilding government institutions, and improving the economic and security situation in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Hasan Zaydan, head of the National Front for a Free and United Iraq, announced at a 29 October press briefing in Baghdad that al-Mutlaq's party would take part in his still unnamed list, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Zaydan declined to speak about his list's platform but said that the basic platform will be built on maintaining Iraqi unity, liberating the country, and serving "the sons of Iraq."

The coalition includes Zaydan's party; the Christian Democratic Party, led by Minas al-Yusufi; the Arab Democratic Front, led by Farhan al-Sudayd; and the Sons of Iraq Movement, led by Ali al-Suhayri. Zaydan told reporters that the coalition includes all segments of Iraqi society -- Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and Shabaks. "None of the segments of the Iraqi people were deprived of participating in this front," he noted.

Hatim Jasim Mukhlis, secretary-general of the Iraqi National Movement, announced the formation of the Wataniyun (Patriots') Grouping at a 30 October press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. The grouping includes: the United Iraq Council, the Al-Ahrar Party, the Al-Furatayn Bloc from Karbala, the Arab and Iraqi Tribes Council, and the Central Tribal Leaders of Iraq Council.

Mukhlis told reporters that the grouping's platform calls for the rebuilding of the Iraqi Army, stripping armed militias of power, addressing the security crisis, battling unemployment, and dealing with administrative and financial corruption.

Mish'an al-Juburi has also formed a list called the National Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc, which reportedly includes over 100 candidates, Al-Sharqiyah reported on 29 October. The news channel also reported that Mahmud al-Azzawi would lead a list called the Arab Front.

Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurdistan Islamic Union announced on 22 October that it would withdraw from the Kurdistan Coalition List, "Jamawar" reported on 24 October. The move appears to be a protest against the influence of the two leading parties -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) -- after the Kurdistan Islamic Union disputed those parties' claims of high turnout and support for the referendum on the constitution in Kurdistan.

The union's weekly newspaper, "Yekgirtu," reported on 18 October that few Kurds went to the polls, and speculated that Kurds are fed up with the Kurdish administrations and their empty promises to improve the quality of life in Kurdistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). KDP Politburo Secretary Fadil Mirani commented on the party's withdrawal, telling "Jamawar" on 24 October: "The parties are free to join the coalition or leave it. This is the core of democracy."

Kurdistan Islamic Union member Abd al-Rahman Siddiq Karim discussed the union's decision to pull out in a 24 October interview with RFI.

Meanwhile, the KDP and PUK intend to run on their Kurdistan Coalition List, which appears to be identical to the one they presented in the January elections aside from the absence of the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the addition of the newly allied Kurdistan Islamic Group.

Independent Kurdish politician Mahmud Uthman told Al-Sharqiyah in a 30 October interview that he will remain on the coalition list. "As was the case in the previous elections, the list will include the two main parties in addition to other parties, including Kurdish, Turkoman, Assyrian, Chaldean parties, and others. It even includes some Arab brothers who live in Kurdistan and some independent figures," Uthman said.

RFI reported on 29 October that voter apathy in the Kurdistan region is growing due to disappointment over the lack of services and a monopolization of power by the two main Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK.

Karim Qadir, chief editor of the daily "Khabat," told RFI: "This retreat of interest has its reasons. Among the most important ones is the weakness of public services. Also, the inability of the government to [put down] terrorist operations in the border areas between the Iraqi regions [administered from Baghdad] and [autonomous] Kurdistan Region has contributed to the people's lack of interest [in politics]. Also, the widespread corruption has contributed to discouraging people. There is also some disappointment over the [Kurdish] representatives in the central government because [the government] has not in any way enriched the previous experience in the crucial issues such as returning Kirkuk and other Arabized areas to Kurdistan Region. Also, the government has not fulfilled some of the promises that it gave to the people with respect to some national and patriotic issues as well as the issues of services."

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