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Wednesday, March 24, 2010     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Pro-Iran factions gain ground in Iraq elections

BAGHDAD — Iraq's next government was expected to move toward neighboring Iran.   

Western analysts said pro-Iranian factions have made significant gains in parliamentary elections on March 7. They said a leading faction believed financed by Teheran, the Iraqi National Alliance, which included Shi'ite cleric Moqtada Sadr, could decide the formation of the next government in Baghdad, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The Sadrists there are continuing to do well and in fact have improved their position somewhat," Reidar Visser, an American historian and a leading analyst on Iraq's elections, said.

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Analysts said INA has become the third largest party in parliament and would determine the next government. They said the anti-U.S. Sadr faction in INA, led by the older Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, could win 40 out of 73 votes in the bloc. During the elections, Sadr vowed to bolster Iraqi nationalism and enact reforms.

"The Sadrists exhibit the whole spectrum from pro-Iranian to anti-Iranian, and the former will do their utmost to hold on to a pan-Shiite alliance," Visser said in a briefing with bloggers on March 22.

Sadr has also led the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army, regarded as one of the largest of the Shi'ite militias. In 2008, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki ordered an offensive against Mahdi Army in Baghdad and Basra.

"Our effect on the formation of the new government will be obvious," Sadr bloc parliamentary candidate Hakim Al Zamili said.

During the campaign, Sadr promised to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Sadr has become a leading rival of Al Maliki and was likely to support challenger Iyad Alawi, a former prime minister.

But Iraqi sources said INA has been discussing the possibility of a merger with Al Maliki's party. They said it was not unclear whether Sadr would support the move.

Analysts as well as Iraqi politicians have assessed that Al Maliki would not be quick to concede defeat to Alawi. They said Iraq's security forces have been placed on alert for post-election violence.

"Many of the terrorist operations increased before the elections and calmed down in recent days," Shi'ite candidate Haider Abadi, a member of Al Maliki's Al Dawa Party, said. "This suggests that certain parties were behind these activities. We are concerned that this could resume if they don't achieve good results in the elections."

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