Reporting from Baghdad — Iraq's two Shiite Muslim political blocs, both with close ties to neighboring Iran, announced the formation late Tuesday of a coalition with a strong chance at forming a new government after inconclusive March 7 elections, state television reported.
"After continuous talks…based on joint national principles…both coalitions have agreed to announce the formation of a single parliamentary bloc," said a statement read by Abdul-Razzaq Kadhimi, a member of former Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's coalition and a onetime advisor to him.
FOR THE RECORD:
Iraqi election: Articles Tuesday and Wednesday in Section A reported that the political alliance led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki had obtained a court order before the March 7 elections allowing different blocs to combine seat totals in efforts to name a new prime minister. Maliki filed the request March 21, and the Iraqi Supreme Court issued the order March 25, both after the election. —
The new bloc combines the seats of the State of Law coalition, led by incumbent Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, and Jafari's Iraqi National Alliance, which includes the movement of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr.
The announcement Tuesday left unresolved the question of who would lead the new coalition, though Maliki remains a strong contender.
Maliki's path to retaining the premiership is far from clear. He faces stiff opposition from the bloc loyal to Sadr, who despise the prime minister for launching several military offensives against its armed wing, the Mahdi Army, in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
The newly formed coalition constitutes 159 of the parliament's 325 seats, just four seats short of the majority needed to govern. Its formation delivers a blow to the bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite and onetime favorite of the West with close ties to U.S. allies in the Middle East.
Because Allawi's faction won more seats than any other—91—he was technically allowed to have the first crack at forming the new government. But Maliki had obtained a court order before the vote allowing disparate blocs to combine their totals. A secretive commission had also challenged some of the candidates on Allawi's Iraqiya slate for alleged connections to the late Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Maliki also sought and received a court order for a recount of all 2.5 million votes in Baghdad. Hours after the recount began Monday, he filed another court order, arguing that the tally was not thorough enough.
Allawi garnered the support of many of the Sunni Arabs who once supported the insurgency, and some observers fear that any perception that they've been cheated out of victory could lead them to violence, reigniting a sectarian civil war.
All of the major components of the new coalition, including Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, are either rooted in or retain strong ties to mostly Shiite Iran, where Sadr is now living.
Many Iraqis have criticized the maneuvers by Maliki and his allies as a power grab that violates the spirit of the elections.
It remained unclear late Tuesday whether Maliki would continue to push for the more intensive recount in Baghdad or whether the commission on de-Baathification would pursue its challenges against Allawi's allies.
Times staff writer Raheem Salman contributed to this report.