New Shiite Alliance Excludes Iraqi Prime Minister

From The New York Times:

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iranian-backed Shiite parties that helped propel Iraq’s prime minister into power three years ago dumped him Monday as their candidate for re-election, forming a new alliance to contest the January vote.

The move dealt a blow to Nouri al-Maliki’s chances to keep his job next year and set the stage for a showdown between competing factions in the Shiite coalition that had dominated Iraq’s government since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Al-Maliki now faces pressure to make a deal with minority Sunni parties to strengthen his position. Because his Dawa party is relatively small, he has never been able to rely on a loyal political base. Instead, he has developed a reputation as a strong leader by crushing militias loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad and in the southern city of Basra.

The Shiite prime minister’s efforts to win public confidence by portraying himself as a champion of security have taken a battering in recent weeks. A wave of horrific bombings has called into question the government’s ability to protect the Iraqi people two months after most U.S. forces pulled out of urban areas.

In the latest violence, bombs attached to two buses en route from Baghdad exploded less than an hour apart near the mainly Shiite city of Kut on Monday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 20, police and hospital officials said. Local police chief Brig. Gen. Raed Shakir Jawdat said the explosives were detonated with timers.

Monday’s political announcement — made with fanfare at a news conference — represents a major realignment.

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