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Iraq's Maliki Unveils Broad Coalition


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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has announced a broad-based coalition to take part in general elections set for January. The bloc hopes to offer an alternative to sectarian-driven politics.

The State of Law coalition includes Sunni Muslims, Kurds and Christians, people who have had little voice in Iraqi national politics since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Announcing the formation of the broader group Thursday in Baghdad, Mr. al-Maliki said it represents an historic point in the establishment of a new Iraqi state.

The coalition of 40 parties includes some of the Shi'ite prime minister's key allies, including oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani, as well as influential Sunni tribal leaders, including those who led the rebellion against al-Qaida inspired militants.

The Shi'ite prime minister is also stressing the secular nature of the grouping, in a bid to court voters weary of years of sectarian violence.

Reidar Visser is an academic specializing in Iraq with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

"The overwhelming tendency in Iraqi politics for the past two years at the popular level has been towards non-sectarianism, towards less emphasis of sectarian identities," Visser said. "But the political parties have been lagging behind in a way."

The broadened State of Law coalition will go up against the leading Shi'ite bloc, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, former allies of Mr. al-Maliki who have the backing of conservative Shi'ite Iran.

The issue of foreign influence is, of course, high on the list of voter concerns, after more than six years of the U.S. presence. Reidar Vissar says Mr. al-Maliki may have successfully negotiated that problem.

"Maliki is seen as someone who is moving towards a more independent relationship, a more equal relationship, someone who has certainly moved Iraq towards some more independent position as far as the American influence is concerned," Visser said.

Voting for a new parliament is set for January, the first general election since 2005.

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