- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

BAGHDAD — A cleric with links to Iran leads the candidate list of a powerful coalition of Iraq’s mainstream Shi’ite Muslim groups for next month’s election, an aide said yesterday. The list includes former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi and some followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim — the head of Iraq’s largest Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — is a candidate to take a central position in the assembly that will create Iraq’s next government and constitution, if the coalition takes most of the parliament seats in the Jan. 30 vote.

In a troubling sign, masked gunmen riding in a black car yesterday killed three members of Iraq’s Hezbollah Shi’ite movement, one of the 23 groups in the coalition, said Essa Sayid Jaafer, director of the group’s political office.

Mr. Jaafer said one of the three victims, Sattar Jabar, was on the list of 228 candidates and had been warned he would be killed unless he bowed out.

Backed by Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the coalition — called the United Iraqi Alliance — hopes to draw the bulk of the vote from Iraq’s Shi’ite majority. U.S.-backed interim Prime Minster Iyad Allawi, also a Shi’ite, has not joined the group and is drawing up his own candidate list.

Mr. al-Hakim was the longtime head of SCIRI’s armed wing, the Badr Brigade, which was based in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein. Mr. al-Hakim returned to Iraq after Saddam’s fall and took up the leadership of SCIRI after his brother, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, was killed in a car bombing last year.

Other names in the top 10 of the list are Mr. Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and interim Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Islamic Dawa Party.

Mr. Chalabi, a leader of the opposition in exile, was touted as a possible new leader for Iraq by some in the Pentagon, but he fell out of favor with Washington earlier this year. Since then, he has been trying to line up grass-roots support among Shi’ites.

The coalition’s platform, which has not been finished, will include a call for working toward the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops in Iraq, members said.

Troops are arriving in greater numbers, part of a U.S. plan to bolster security ahead of elections. In the southern city of Basra, Iraqi security officials reported that American soldiers ordered to Iraq had crossed the border from Kuwait yesterday.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad declined to comment on the reported troop movement, citing security concerns. There are about 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Washington announced the 12,000-troop increase last week, which will bring the U.S. military force to the highest level of the war, including the initial invasion in March 2003.

An American soldier pleaded guilty at his court-martial yesterday to one count of unpremeditated murder and one count of soliciting another soldier to commit unpremeditated murder in the Aug. 18 killing of a severely wounded 16-year-old Iraqi male in Baghdad’s impoverished Sadr City neighborhood.

Staff Sgt. Johnny M. Horne Jr., 30, of Winston-Salem, N.C., was among several soldiers who found the teenager with severe abdominal wounds in a burning truck. A criminal investigator said at an earlier hearing that the soldiers decided to kill him to “put him out of his misery.”

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