Image: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
Ahmad Al-rubaye  /  AFP - Getty Images
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki addresses members of the State of Law Coalition, a broad-based political alliance unveiled in Baghdad on Thursday.
updated 10/1/2009 11:57:10 AM ET 2009-10-01T15:57:10

The re-election strategy for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took shape Thursday as he unveiled a broad alliance for January's parliamentary voting that includes prominent Sunni clans who joined the fight against insurgents.

Al-Maliki's Shiite-led government is facing a challenge from a powerful bloc led by Shiite religious factions, including the largest Shiite political group and anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Maliki rejected joining the coalition and put together a rival movement that emphasizes secular policies and reconciliation with Sunnis after years of sectarian bloodshed.

Al-Maliki's allies had strong showings in provincial elections earlier this year. He now hopes that voter distaste for the Shiite religious factions remains strong enough to keep his pro-Western government in power.

Al-Maliki's Shiite-led coalition for the Jan. 16 vote brings in Sunni parties and clans from around the country, including some members of the Abu Risha tribe that led the Sunni uprising against al-Qaida in Iraq in the western Anbar province in one of the important turning points of the war. Other notable Sunnis joining al-Maliki include members of the powerful al-Dulaimi clan.

Also on board with al-Maliki are top aides and several key members of his government, including Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani and government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. The bloc of 40 parties and movements — known as the State of Law list — is rounded out by some Kurdish and Christian groups from Iraq's north.

Greater voice for Sunnis
A victory by al-Maliki's coalition could mean a more diverse Cabinet and a greater political voice from Sunnis, who enjoyed unchallenged control under Saddam Hussein but were swept aside by the majority Shiites after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Many Shiites still carry deep resentment against Sunnis for years of repression under Saddam.

In a speech to announce his election bloc, al-Maliki said it was time for Iraqis to put aside ethnic and sectarian differences to "bear the responsibilities of the coming years, which need more efforts and sacrifices."

Al-Maliki's government has come under pressure to maintain security gains as U.S. forces prepare for the end of combat missions next year.

He used the speech to take another perceived jab at Syria, which he has blamed for harboring Saddam loyalists linked to attacks, including twin suicide truck bombs in August outside the foreign and finance ministries that killed nearly 100 people.

"We will not allow any country to interfere in our domestic affairs, which we consider a red line that can't be crossed," he said. "We will reconsider our relations with any country that does not respect Iraq's sovereignty and interferes in its affairs."

2 poles of Shiite power
The election will offer two distinct poles of Shiite power — al-Maliki's list and a bloc led by the Iranian-backed Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which is Iraq's largest Shiite political force.

The Supreme Council, however, is now led by a new hand: Ammar al-Hakim, who took over after his influential father died in August in Tehran and is struggling to keep the group from splintering.

The Council has forged election bonds with Shiite leaders such as the cleric al-Sadr, who carries sway over members of his once-formidable Mahdi Army militia. But al-Maliki refused offers to join — banking his political future on the gambit that the era is ending for Shiite religious factions in Iraqi political affairs.

"We have agreed to confront all kinds of terrorism, not to allow the return of militias, to confine arms to the state only and to keep military and police forces away from political influences," al-Maliki said.

Fate of opposition members turns
The fate of 36 detained members of an Iranian opposition group took another turn after Iraq's chief prosecutor ordered them released.

Police Maj. Ghalib al-Kharki, spokesman for police in Diyala province, said the men were taken to Baghdad late Wednesday by security forces dispatched from the capital. He refused to give other details. Iraqi government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the case.

But the resistance group, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, claimed many of the men are severely weakened from a hunger strike to protest their nearly three-month detention.

On Wednesday, Iraq's chief prosecutor, Ghadanfar Mahmoud, issued a blanket order for police to release the detainees, who have been held since a raid on their camp in northern Iraq in July. Iraqi judicial authorities did not pursue charges and have said the men should be freed.

The group operated for years in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but nearly 3,500 members have been confined to a camp since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. military turned over responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis on Jan. 1.

More on: Iraq

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