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Iraqi Shi'ite blocs announce merger

Iraq's two main Shi'ite electoral blocs said on Thursday they would unite under a new name, National Alliance, but they have yet to resolve their differences over their choice for prime minister.
/ Source: Reuters

Iraq's two main Shi'ite electoral blocs said on Thursday they would unite under a new name, National Alliance, but they have yet to resolve their differences over their choice for prime minister.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, which came second in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election, and the third-placed Iraqi National Alliance, in early May announced their intent to merge.

A cross-sectarian coalition led by secularist former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi eked out a two-seat win in the election with strong support from minority Sunnis.

Under Iraqi law because no bloc won an outright majority, political factions have had to negotiate alliances to gain enough seats to form a government.

However, weeks of talks failed to produce an agreement on a candidate for prime minister or a leader for the new coalition, and party officials indicated those differences had not yet been completely resolved with the first session of parliament scheduled for Monday.

Coalition officials said they would enter parliament as a united front with 159 seats just short of the 163 needed for a simple majority in the 325-seat assembly.

"The two alliances declare (that they are) forming the biggest bloc in parliament, and the merger of the two alliances under the name National Alliance," said Karim al-Yaqoubi, member of INA.

"Talks are going on to select the head of the bloc in parliament and within days the name of the prime minister," he said.

Allawi warned that a merger of Shi'ite blocs that attempted to exclude Iraqiya from the government could trigger renewed sectarian warfare just as Washington moved ahead with plans to formally end combat operations in Iraq by the end of August.

Yaqoubi said Iraqiya would be a "fundamental element" in the next government but offered no details.

"This is the principle of the National Alliance," he said. "There will be no exclusion of any bloc."

He said the Kurdish Alliance, which won more than 40 seats, would join the merged Shi'ite parties, which would give them enough seats to form a government.