Kurds to join Shi'a alliance: Talabani

By Waleed Ibrahim

Iraq's president said minority Kurds can be expected to join the country's main Shi'a blocs if they unite to form the next government following inconclusive elections in March.

Kurdish support would give the Shi'a parties the muscle needed to sideline former premier Iyad Allawi, whose cross-sectarian alliance won the most seats in the March 7 vote after gaining the broad backing of Iraq's Sunni minority.

That could fuel Sunni anger at a time when the slaughter between majority Shi'a and Sunnis who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein has subsided but attacks by Sunni Islamist insurgents continue to threaten Iraq's fragile security.

President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said the Kurdistan list consisting of his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdish President Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, stood ready to back a tie-up between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA).

Talabani made his comments after a meeting on Wednesday night with former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, whose faction is part of the INA.

"As everyone knows, we are natural allies," Talabani told reporters, recalling Kurdish-Shi'a solidarity when the two communities were oppressed under toppled Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein.

"In addition, we will support whichever candidate (for prime minister) our Shi'a brothers propose."

The incumbent prime minister's Shi'a-led State of Law coalition came a close second in the hotly contested March election with 89 seats, just two behind the 91 won by Allawi's Iraqiya list.

The election results have to be certified, a process that may yet take weeks.

The INA, which is led by overtly religious parties with close ties to Tehran, came third with around 70 seats and Maliki's bloc has been in talks with INA on forming a working majority in the 325-seat parliament.

But Maliki himself has become a sticking point. One of the main parties in the INA, anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement, opposes his reappointment as prime minister. Maliki send troops to crush Sadr's paramilitary Mehdi Army in 2008.

Protracted negotiations on forming a government raise the risk of a spike in sectarian violence. Lengthy coalition talks after Iraq's last election in December 2005 saw the country plunge into a bloody war.

A rise in violence could threaten U.S. plans to end combat operations in August ahead of a full pullout by the end of 2011. There are still around 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, seven years after the invasion.

Most Iraqi Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but mainly vote according to their ethnic, rather than their religious identity.

The Kurdistan list gained 43 seats in the election in March. A handful of smaller Kurdish parties also gained seats, taking the total potential Kurdish bloc to 58 in the next parliament if they join forces, as expected.

That would give a Shi'a-Kurdish coalition government just enough seats for a two-thirds majority that would allow it to amend the constitution. - Reuters


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