Supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are voting on who they want as premier after March elections made them the largest religious body in the Iraqi government. The poll is expected to give them clout in future talks with other blocs.
AFP - Polls opened in a ballot of Iraq's Sadrists on Friday over who should be the country's leader, while ex-premier Iyad Allawi received a boost after a key Shiite party backed his bloc for government.
A week after results from Iraq's March 7 parliamentary elections were announced, Allawi's Iraqiya bloc and sitting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance are battling to be the first to form a government.
The pair, the main candidates for the prime minister post, will both be competing for the backing of supporters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the movement's two-day unofficial "referendum."
"There are major conflicts in the Iraqi political landscape over choosing the prime minister because of the competition between winning lists," said Falah Shanshal, a senior Sadrist MP.
"Moqtada al-Sadr, when he issued this statement, called people to this referendum so that the final decision would be made by the Iraqi people."
While the plebiscite is nominally open to all Iraqis, the vast majority of voters will likely be Sadrist backers.
Alongside Allawi and Maliki, the latter of whom is a bitter Sadrist enemy, Maliki's predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari is also on the ballot.
Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi and Jaafar al-Sadr, the son of an ayatollah who founded Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party and was assassinated by Saddam's regime in 1980, are also among the candidates.
The vote opened Friday morning and was set to conclude Saturday evening.
The referendum results will give the Sadrists, whose 30-something leader has been in Iran for about two years, ammunition in negotiations with other blocs to form a government, particularly with State of Law and Maliki.
The rivals share a deep hostility that transcends their otherwise shared sectarian roots and centralising tendencies, due largely to a military offensive ordered by Maliki in 2008 against the Mahdi Army, the movement's armed wing.
None of the four main blocs -- Iraqiya, State of Law, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) of which the Sadrists are the largest faction, and Kurdistania, comprising the autonomous Kurdish region's two long-dominant blocs -- are close to forming a majority on their own.
At least two of those four are required to reach the 163-seat parliamentary magic number.
Late on Thursday, Allawi received the support of a key Shiite party when its leader pledged it would not join a coalition that did not include Iraqiya.
"We will not participate in a government that does not include Iraqiya," Ammar al-Hakim said in comments posted on the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) website.
"It received many votes in the western regions and in Baghdad, and it is not right to ignore the will of these people, because excluding Iraqiya means excluding these people."
Iraqiya secured 91 seats in the 325-member Council of Representatives, complete preliminary results show, with much of its support coming from secular Shiite Muslims in the south and Sunni Arabs in the north.
It won two seats more than State of Law, while the INA, of which SIIC is a member, secured 70 seats.
Though the SIIC controls less than a third of the INA's seats, it remains popular among Shiite Muslims in the south and its support for Iraqiya could prove crucial in building a parliamentary majority.
Date created : 2010-04-02