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Iraqi Political Parties Register for December Elections

In Iraq, several hundred political parties have registered for parliamentary elections in December. The elections are to be held under the new constitution which was approved overwhelmingly two weeks ago, despite strong opposition from the Sunni Arab minority.

Prospects of another sectarian election have emerged in Iraq, as political parties registered their candidate lists Friday and the campaign period formally began for December's parliamentary elections.

Major alliances which contested elections in January registered joint lists on Friday.

The United Iraqi Alliance, which groups major parties of the Shiite Arab majority, remained largely intact. The Shiite alliance last January won more than one half of the 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament.

It includes the Dawa party of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution led by religious leader Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, and the Sadrist group led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

However, a group of independent Shiite lawmakers broke away to form its own list. Their leader, Ali al-Dabbagh, said this was the final phase of the transitional period.

"We are now in a political process which will lead Iraq to a country of law, a country of a constitution," said Ali al-Dabbagh.

The two main parties of the independence-minded Kurdish minority said they would submit a single list as they did in January.

The alliance includes the Democratic Kurdistan and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan parties. It won 76 seats in the interim parliament and, with the Shiites, dominated the interim government.

In addition, three Sunni Arab groups, which largely boycotted the last elections, said they were forming an alliance to contest the elections.

They include the Conference of the People of Iraq, the Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Dialogue.

And former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced he would head a secular, nationalist group that would seek to rise above sectarian divisions in the society.

The leader or the secularist Iraqi Nation party, Mithal al-Alusi, said the next Iraqi government should transcend ethnic and religious differences.

"We still have ministries reflecting only one face, only one party, only one policy," said Mithal al-Alusi. "We cannot accept this kind of new fascism in the new Iraq. The new election will give us the proof and the possibility to push the liberal idea."

Because Sunnis largely boycotted January elections they had little influence in drafting Iraq's new constitution.

Many said they plan to vote for the new parliament which will have the power to amend the charter.

A member of the Religious Scholar's Association that boycotted the referendum, Issam al-Rawi said the new constitution needs major revisions.

"The constitution is not a holy book," said Issam al-Rawi. "It is our opinion. And everyone must be brave [enough] to change his opinions if he feels he is wrong."

He said the constitution weakens the Iraqi nation by dispersing political authority and valuable oil resources among newly created autonomous regions.

Legal experts say one of the first tasks of the new parliament will be to address controversial articles in the constitution which the drafters were unable to resolve.