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Strong Political Alliances Forming in Iraq Ahead of Election

Interim government officials in Iraq say it is becoming more apparent to everyone in the country that elections will be held in January, despite the widespread insurgency in the country. Those officials point to the announcement Thursday by a coalition of mostly Shiite Muslim political parties and groups that it has presented a list of 228 candidates to run in the election.

Senior interim government officials in Iraq say the formation of the mostly Shiite coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance, provides for a powerful and formidable political entity in the country.

The alliance was formed under the leadership of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shiite Muslim cleric in Iraq.

One senior interim government official said the unification of mostly Shiite Muslim political parties should send a clear message to Sunni Muslims that boycotting the upcoming national elections in January, would be tantamount to, "committing political suicide."

Although the new alliance does contain the names of some Sunni tribal leaders, many Sunni Muslim parties have threatened to boycott the elections if they are held in January. They complain there is not enough security in the country to guarantee that everyone will have a chance to vote.

Last week, more than a dozen mostly Sunni political parties called for the elections to be postponed for up to six months. However, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi quickly dismissed the call, saying elections would be held as scheduled. And, since then, there has been a break among some Sunni political factions.

For instance, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which last week called for the elections to be postponed, on Thursday submitted the names of 275 candidates, the maximum being allowed under election laws in Iraq.

Senior interim government officials say it is becoming increasingly more clear that non participation in the election process will only lead to greater political exclusion in the future of Iraq.

And, with Shiite Muslims making up about 60 percent of the population, many political analysts in the country say inclusion in the political process becomes that much more important for Sunni Muslims.

Even so, Sunni clerics with the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, continued to urge a boycott of the elections. The group said no elections should be held under pressure from the United States. It also said security in the country is such that holding elections would be what it called "madness."

But, with the formation of the mostly Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, and the submission of the names of candidates by the mostly Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, there appears to be a growing consensus that the elections will be held, regardless of the persistent and deadly insurgency in the country.

As one senior interim government official said, Iraqis are beginning to understand they can either choose to participate in their future, or risk being left behind.

On January 30, Iraqis are scheduled to elect an interim 275-seat national assembly. At the end of the year, a permanent government is scheduled to be elected.