12/02/2004, 00.00
IRAQ
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Iraq: al-Sistani blesses Shiite alliance running in the upcoming elections

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Moderate and extremist Shiites have built a powerful alliance to run in the elections scheduled for January 30, this thanks to the intervention of grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's foremost Shiite religious authority. The Shiite alliance will put forward a joint list of candidates. A committee of al-Sistani aides will examine the names of potential candidates. It is likely that the Iranian-born grand ayatollah will ensure that Islam becomes central tenet of the constitution that must be written next year.

Despite the ongoing violence in the country, Shiite politicians are organising the elections according to the rules laid down by the Anglo-American coalition. Should they win the elections, it will be the first time in the history of Iraq that Shiites will govern the country.

"We are pushing the government and the political parties very hard so that we can have elections on time," said Jawad al-Maliki, a cultural historian who spent 25 years in exile and is a senior figure in the large Islamic Dawa party.

Iraqi voters will elect 275 members to the National Assembly. In addition to appointing a new prime minister and cabinet, their first major task will be writing a constitution.

The list of the Shiite alliance includes Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, and Abdul Aziz al Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the most important Shiite organisation. Also present are Ahmad Chalabi and representatives of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Nadim al-Jabbery, leader of the Fadhila party and professor of politics at Baghdad University, who opposes the occupation, said:  "We want to get the Americans out of our country through negotiations, not fighting. If we don't have elections and an elected government then the Americans will stay and our problems will continue."

Notably absent from the list, for now, is Ayad Allawi, the secular Shiite who was appointed prime minister by the US in June of this year. Some sources say that Ayatollah al-Sistani is reluctant to have Mr Allawi on the list because of his close alliance with the US. Other Shiite politicians are still uncomfortable with his membership in the Ba'ath party before he defected in the 1970s.

Other parties are forming their own, smaller lists of allied candidates. Masood Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party will put in a joint list might yet form an alliance with Mr Allawi.

Ghazi al-Yawar, the US-appointed president, has formed his own party of Sunni and Shiite figures which will put forward its own list.

The most likely candidates for prime minister remain Allawi, al-Jaafari of Islamic Dawa, and Adil Abdul-Mehdi, number two in the Supreme Council.

In writing the temporary constitution brokered by the US occupation authorities earlier this year a compromise was found. Islam was designated a source for legislation but not the sole source. It is likely that the more radical Shiites will want to change that. (ZE)

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