Saturday, March 05, 2005

Two newly elected politicians announced today that they were withdrawing from the fragile political alliance cobbled together by the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, marking the first notable fracture within the alliance. The defections expose the vulnerability of the Shiite parties even as they are struggling to form a coalition government with other political groups, and showed the limits of the influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the cleric who assembled the alliance. The split signaled that any talks to form a new government will likely be protracted, as rivals to the Shiites try to take advantage of weaknesses in the alliance. (New York Times)

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite majority said Saturday that the clergy-led United Iraqi Alliance must finally unite and form a government one month after the country's first democratic elections. In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, al-Sistani appealed for unity among the alliance's 140 parliamentary deputies after two of its leaders dropped out to protest its inability to barter a deal with other parties - including the Kurds, who control 75 seats - to form a coalition government. (AP)

The outgoing Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, whose list scored third in the recent elections, affirmed his interest in keeping his job on Friday, after a party bolted the winning Shia political list. The defection of the National Coalition Movement from the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) could be a boon for Allawi, whose hopes rest on splitting the Shia list and then cutting a deal with the Kurds. (The News [Pakistan])

A powerful Kurdish coalition said on Saturday that it would not back Iraq's main Shi'ite alliance in the race for prime minister without assurances that they would not impose an Islamic fundamentalist state. "Political Islam is a fact in our country. But I don't want Iraq to be tUrned into a religious, sectarian, fundamentalist state, this will not be accepted," said Barham Salih, deputy prime minister of Iraq and senior negotiator for the Kurdish bloc. (Reuters)