By NADA BAKRI
Published: January 16, 2010
BAGHDAD — Prominent Iraqi politicians on Saturday announced the formation of what might emerge as the country’s most powerful secular coalition in parliamentary elections in March, a group that includes a vice president, a former prime minister and a leading Sunni lawmaker who was barred last week from taking part in the vote.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, left, leads the new Iraqiya coalition. The politicians Saleh al-Mutlaq, center, and Dhafir al-Ani also attended a rally for the bloc on Saturday in Baghdad.
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Many here view the coalition, which includes Sunnis and Shiites, as the biggest competitor to the State of Law Coalition, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. But the decision to bar some of its members from running in the March 7 elections, including the Sunni lawmaker, Saleh al-Mutlaq, could weaken its performance.
The move to disqualify Mr. Mutlaq on the grounds that he supported the Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein has also frayed relations between him and the coalition’s leader, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, politicians and diplomats say.
At the ceremony announcing the coalition, Mr. Allawi called on all Iraqis to participate in the vote, to move Iraq “from crisis to prosperity, from factionalism to democracy, from fear to certainty and security, from poverty to prosperity, from uncertainty and confusion to steadiness and certainty.” In an apparent gibe at Mr. Maliki, he added: “This is how we can establish the State of Law. Otherwise, it would be a State of Chaos.”
The announcement of the coalition, known in Arabic as Iraqiya, was postponed several times, delays that officials in the coalition attributed to rivalries among its leaders and protracted negotiations over who would take the most prominent roles.
“The problem is a number of these blocs don’t necessarily get along with each other,” an official from the group said on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue.
None of those differences were aired on Saturday during an extravagant ceremony at a hotel in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, where singers belted out nationalist songs to an audience that danced and waved Iraqi flags and banners of the coalition. A defiant Mr. Mutlaq appeared at the announcement, speaking at the end.
“If they succeed in eliminating Mutlaq, I tell them that there is a Mutlaq in every one of you,” the Sunni lawmaker told the cheering crowd.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi is among the group’s leaders.
Mr. Allawi said the coalition, which is expected to fare well in Baghdad and predominantly Sunni provinces to its north and west, would work on improving security in Iraq, as well as providing basic services like water and electricity and bettering the performance of the country’s lagging economy.
Violence has dropped significantly since 2008, but militants are still capable of carrying out spectacular attacks in the heart of Baghdad and other provinces.