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New Iraqi group to compete in elections

228-candidate bloc supported by al-Sistani and 18 groups

From Kianne Sadeq and Saad Abedine
CNN


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Baghdad poster of Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A coalition fielding 228 candidates and supported by Iraq's top Shiite cleric has been formed to compete in the January 30 national elections.

The coalition, called the United Iraqi Alliance, is backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

It will seek seats for the 275-member transitional national assembly, which will be charged with preparing a draft constitution to be put up for a vote in a referendum later next year.

The coalition, which includes 18 political parties and movements as well as independent individuals, announced its plans at a Thursday press conference.

Included in the coalition are the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party -- both Shiite movements -- and Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

The alliance also includes prominent Sunni leaders from the north and the city of Mosul. Minorities such as Yazidis, Turkmen and Kurds are participating as well.

The assembly members will be chosen at-large, not by region.

The alliance was announced as many Sunni parties continued their call for an election boycott.

At the press conference, one representative said Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr had not been on the alliance list because his group had not registered for the vote.

Sheikh Fawaz al-Jarbaa, a Sunni tribal leader from Mosul, and others said the al-Sadr movement endorsed the list and had given its full support to it.

But they said the al-Sadr movement has not yet decided whether it will participate. And if it does, it is not clear what role it would play.

"We respect the al-Sadr movement and encourage them to join," al-Jarbaa said.

The alliance, which has secular candidates on its list, said it has no plans to impose Islamic law on Iraq.


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