BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s two main Shi’ite electoral blocs announced their merger on Thursday under a new name, National Alliance, but have yet to resolve differences over their nominee for prime minister.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc, which came second in Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary election, and the third-placed Iraqi National Alliance (INA), had declared in early May that they intended to merge.
A cross-sectarian coalition led by secularist former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi eked out a two-seat win in the election with strong support from minority Sunnis. But because no bloc won an outright majority, political factions have had to negotiate alliances to gain enough seats to form a government.
“We have decided to merge in a single bloc and the name of our new bloc will be National Alliance,” Khalid al-Attiya, deputy speaker of the last parliament and a senior member of Maliki’s State of Law, said in announcing the union.
Officials said the two blocs would enter parliament together with 159 seats, just short of the 163 needed to form a government in Iraq’s new 325-seat Council of Representatives.
Karim al-Yaqoubi, a member of INA, said the Kurdish Alliance, which won more than 40 seats, would join the merged Shi’ite parties to give them enough seats to form a government.
Maliki’s bloc won 89 seats, finishing two seats behind Allawi’s Iraqiya. INA, which has close ties to Shi’ite neighbour Iran, won 70.
President Jalal Talabani has scheduled the first session of parliament for Monday, more than three months after an election Iraqis hoped would bring stable governance but instead deepened sectarian divisions and opened the door to insurgents determined to disrupt Iraq’s fragile democracy.
State of Law and INA have so far failed to agree on a candidate for prime minister or a leader for the new coalition.
Party officials indicated on Thursday those differences had not yet been completely resolved.
“Talks are going on to select the head of the bloc in parliament and, within days, the name of the prime minister,” said Yaqoubi.
Allawi has warned that a merger of Shi’ite blocs that sought to exclude Iraqiya from government could rekindle sectarian warfare as Washington moves ahead with plans to formally end combat operations in Iraq by the end of August.
The union raised concerns that Sunnis who felt marginalised when Shi’ites rose to power following the ouster of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein would be pushed to the sidelines after turning out in force at the polls.
Two Iraqiya politicians, one of them a winning candidate, have been killed since the election. Iraqiya leaders have accused Maliki’s government of failing to protect its members.
Yaqoubi said Allawi’s bloc would be a “fundamental element” in the next government but offered no details. “This is the principle of the National Alliance,” he said. “There will be no exclusion of any bloc.”