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Iraqi Shiite Politicians Agree To Using a Joint Election List

By Edward Wong
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The country’s governing Shiite parties agreed Thursday to put forth a joint list of candidates in the December parliamentary elections, ensuring that the religious parties, all with strong Iranian ties, will remain a formidable force in the new government.

The Shiite parties’ step, combined with a similar move by three of the country’s major Sunni political parties, virtually guarantees that the vote will divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, as it did during the recent constitutional referendum and last January’s elections for a transitional Parliament.

With a deadline of Friday to present a list of candidates to the Iraqi electoral commission, the Shiite parties squabbled for much of the week, raising hopes among secular politicians like Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, that the alliance would fracture. This could have left more votes for moderate candidates, a result favored by the Americans.

One prominent politician, Ahmad Chalabi, a deputy prime minister and onetime Pentagon favorite, is likely to leave the Shiite alliance and run on his own slate, said Ali Feisal al-Lami, one of Chalabi’s closest political allies. But his departure would have little immediate impact on the alliance, since he has considerably less popular support now than the main religious groups.

Iraqi officials say it now appears that the Arab electorate will be divided along two lines, religious versus secular and Sunni versus Shiite. The largest vote-getters will be the major Sunni or Shiite religious blocs or the large secular bloc in the middle being put together by Allawi. Kurdish voters in Baghdad and the north are expected to support a Kurdish bloc, as they did in the last elections.

Sectarian tensions flared Thursday as Shiite militiamen and the police clashed with Sunni Arab kidnappers southeast of Baghdad, leaving at least 21 dead and 17 wounded, said a Shiite leader and an Interior Ministry official. The fighting began when members of the Mahdi Army, a militia led by Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebellious Shiite cleric, raided a village called Nehrawan to free a hostage taken by insurgents, said Sheik Abdul-Zahra al-Suweidi, a senior al-Sadr official.