Iraqi leader forms non-sectarian bloc

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The Independent Online

The Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has formed a new political bloc to contest January's general election.

The State of Law alliance includes 40 political parties representing a variety of religious sects and ethnic groups. It will stand against Mr Maliki's former Shia Muslim allies, raising the prospect of further sectarian violence.

In a speech in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the Prime Minister left the door open to working with other political groups, but his allies said State of Law had no desire to join a rival coalition led by other powerful Shia parties.

"The birth of State of Law represents an historic milestone and development in establishing a modern Iraq built on peaceful, nationalist principles," Mr Maliki said.

That ambition will be tested in the first general election since 2005, which will take place as US troops prepare to withdraw and Iraqi forces fight a stubborn insurgency. A smooth vote may help to consolidate security gains, but many people fear friction among the Shia parties may lead to more bloodshed.

Mr Maliki's Dawa Party was part of a broad Shia alliance which swept to power in 2005 and has dominated Iraqi politics. In August, however, it chose not to join the new, mostly Shia Iraqi National Alliance.

Those close to Mr Maliki wanted a broader coalition including a greater number of minority Sunnis and Kurds, which might give him a better chance of winning a second term.