Political Parties Take Shape Ahead of Iraq Polls

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Iraqi political parties and alliances are registering for December's parliamentary elections. The main Shiite and Kurdish coalitions remain intact, and a newly formed Sunni Arab alliance will field candidates in the Dec. 15 election. Former Prime Minister Iyad Alawi is heading a secular group.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

At the 4:00 deadline for registering for Iraq's December elections, there was still a long line outside the Independent Electoral Commission. Dozens of people, parties and coalitions sought to get their names on the ballot. After two and a half years with three interim governments, the December elections will finally pick a parliament, one that will sit for four years and have the power to define the future of the country. NPR's Anne Garrels has this report from Baghdad.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

All week frantic talks went on late into the night as individuals and parties bargained hard over terms. The Kurdish bloc representing Kurdistan, to the north of the country, stayed together. Three Sunni Arab parties which had largely boycotted last January's election formed a coalition, giving US officials hope their participation will help blunt the power of the armed insurgency. The ruling Shiite Islamist alliance was in danger of fraying but managed to stay together with the additional of nationalist cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has broad support among the poor and young. Controversial Shiite politician Ahmed Chalabi, once the darling of the Pentagon and a man of great ambition, didn't get what he wanted from the alliance, so he's gone out on his own.

A secular alliance with Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is hoping yet again to capture the center. Elder statesman Adnan Pachachi is on the slate.

Mr. ADNAN PACHACHI (Elder Statesman): We want to offer the Iraqi people a choice, an alternative to a narrowly religious regime or system of government with a secular one.

GARRELS: The last time, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani told the Shiite majority for vote for the Shiite coalition, and it did. This time he's indicated he'll refrain from getting involved, and this gives the secular alliance hope it has a better chance. It's also hoping widespread disillusionment with the Shiite-led government over economics and security will work in its favor. But Pachachi admits it will be difficult.

Mr. PACHACHI: My biggest fear is that people will gain--instead of voting their political beliefs, they vote according to their religious or sectarian affiliations, you know.

(Soundbite of prayer)

Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)

GARRELS: Despite Sistani's intention to stay out of these elections, the message at Baghdad's Shiite Barata Mosque(ph) was already clear: Vote for the alliance. Thirty-two-year-old Haider Abdul-Jabbar(ph), a private contractor, says people like Pachachi and Allawi are out of touch with the new Iraq.

Mr. HAIDER ABDUL-JABBAR (Private Contractor): (Through Translator) The project Ayad Allawi is presenting is a liberal democratic one. Frankly speaking, the Iraqi society has not reached this stage. Sectarianism and nationalism are the attractions.

GARRELS: But there's an inherent contradiction between sectarianism and nationalism, and Moqtada Sadr may be the wild card. He's had his fights literally with just about everyone: other Shiites, the US and most recently with Sunni insurgents. He wants an Islamic state, but he also wants a united Iraq. Pachachi says Sadr is a talented maneuverer.

Mr. PACHACHI: Regarding the preservation of the unity of Iraq and also the preservation of its special relations with the rest of the Arab world, on this we agree with the Sadris(ph). But I think they'll create as much of a headache for their allies ...(unintelligible) as they would for us.

GARRELS: These elections will differ from January's, when there was one national slate. This time there will be slates in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, with the number of seats decided by proportional representation. That will make it much more important for people to get out and campaign to communities where they're known. Last time, though, candidates were afraid to be known by name, and it's not clear that has changed all that much. In conclusion, the 80-plus-year-old Pachachi says it will be confusing but, ever philosophical, he says you have to start somewhere. Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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