- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s mainstream Shi’ite groups yesterday announced a broad multiethnic list of 228 candidates for the Jan. 30 elections, a victory for Shi’ite leaders who wanted to present a powerful, united front as they seek a leading role in post-Saddam Iraq after years on the sidelines.

The list includes independent Sunni Muslims, a Shi’ite Kurdish group, members of the Yazidis minority religious sect and a Turkmen movement, among others.

It also includes members of the Iraqi National Congress, led by former exile and one-time Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi.

Members of participating groups said the coalition’s platform would include a call for working toward the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq.

The nation’s major Sunni Arab factions were not included and have called for the vote to be postponed. Also absent was radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sheik al-Sadr’s chief political adviser, Ali Sumeisim, told Agence France-Presse that the sheik refused to participate because his followers are being arrested and harassed.

But Mr. Sumeisim said that if the restrictions on the movement were lifted, the sheik and his followers would support the Shi’ite list of candidates.

In a sign that Sunni Arab ranks might be breaking, one of the leading parties that had called for a delay, the Iraqi Islamic Party, quietly submitted its own 275-member list of candidates.

Party officials said that they wanted to reserve the right to take part if their calls for the vote to be put off are not heeded.

Meanwhile, seven Iraqis were killed yesterday in separate clashes in Baghdad and the volatile western city of Ramadi.

A car bomb also rocked a busy Mosul vegetable market, wounding two civilians, while a U.S. soldier was injured by a roadside bomb in the capital.

Another American soldier suffered minor injuries in a similar attack the day before in Samarra, the scene of clashes that culminated in the resignation of the town’s police chief.

In a related development, Japan’s Cabinet voted to extend its troop deployments in Iraq by one year.

Iraq’s leading Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had appointed a six-member panel that put together the list of list of 23 parties, dubbed the United Iraqi Alliance.

He has been working to unite Iraq’s majority Shi’ites ahead of the vote to ensure victory, while including representatives from Iraq’s other diverse communities. Shi’ites make up 60 percent of Iraq’s 26 million population.

“I think that this list is a patriotic list. We hope that Iraqi people will back this list,” said Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, head of the powerful Sunni Shemar tribes in Mosul.

Yet there are divides. Separate candidate lists are being compiled by aides to President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni, and Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shi’ite.

The Allawi effort threatens to draw some Shi’ites away from the ticket that Ayatollah al-Sistani is overseeing, well-connected Shi’ite figures have said.

The main Kurdish parties will contest the vote with their own unified list, Kurdish leaders said.

The alliance includes the major Shi’ite political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party. Both have strong links with Iran, a Shi’ite but non-Arab neighbor.

The election will be Iraq’s first popular vote since Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Iraqis will choose a 275-member assembly that will write a permanent constitution.

If adopted in a referendum next year, the constitution would form the legal basis for another general election to be held by Dec. 15, 2005.

Voters will be able to cast ballots for coalitions like the one presented yesterday. The number of seats coalitions win will be determined by the percentage of the vote they get. Individuals can run too, as long as they collect the necessary number of signatures.

Also yesterday, Mr. Allawi distanced himself from two newspaper interviews that quoted him as saying the vote could take place over as many as three weeks. He reportedly had told Swiss and Belgian newspapers that a staggered vote would be a good way to address security concerns.

“We would like to clarify and correct those reports,” Mr. Allawi’s office said. “The Iraqi government … is very well aware of the importance of holding elections on time.”

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