Iraq: New Shi'ite alliance excludes PM, strengthens Iranian influence

Major Shi'ite groups have formed a new alliance that will exclude the Iraqi prime minister, lawmakers said Monday, a move likely to stoke fears of increasing Iranian influence and set back efforts to end sectarian politics ahead of January parliamentary elections. The alliance will include the largest Shi'ite party, the Iranian-backed Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, anti-US cleric Muqtada Sadr's bloc and some Sunni and secular independents. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Dawa Party won't be included because of disagreement over who would lead the alliance, Shiite lawmaker Reda Jawad Taqi told The Associated Press. He said a last-minute meeting held Sunday in a bid to bring al-Maliki's Dawa party into the coalition had failed to overcome the differences. The coalition will likely be led by the Supreme Council if Dawa stays out, something that would likely deepen Iranian influence in Iraq just as US forces begin to withdraw. The last American soldier is scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.