Influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has reached out to rival Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as political factions scramble to form coalitions in the aftermath of Iraq's provincial elections last month.
Sadr had withdrawn his ministers from Iraq's Shi'ite coalition government in 2007 in protest at a lack of will to eject U.S. forces from Iraq. Maliki later launched military crackdowns on Sadr's Mehdi Army militia.
An anti-American firebrand, Sadr has a huge following among Iraq's Shi'ite poor, and his allies won enough seats in the Jan. 31 polls for Iraq's provincial councils to remain a political player. Shi'ites are the majority Muslim sect in Iraq.
Yet the vote was spread among myriad parties, meaning coalitions will be needed to wield power. They will have the strongest influence in picking powerful provincial governors.
"The political powers that won in the provincial councils want to form political alliances or coalitions for the coming stage and for agreement on crucial issues," Sadr said in his latest, undated, statement, without referring to Maliki.
"I advise them to do this, and as fast as possible, because the hearts of Iraqis cannot be patient at the lack of services and growing disputes," Sadr said, referring to the political bickering which has held up Iraq's post-war development.
The polls saw candidates affiliated with Maliki's Dawa party come first in all but one of the councils in Iraq's largely Shi'ite south, and in Baghdad, pushing out the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI).
Sadr said coalitions should not include the "sectarian powers of the past", most likely a reference to ISCI, which promoted itself as guardians of Shi'ite tradition and ritual, and had previously controlled many of Iraq's southern provinces.
Though supporters of a Shi'ite cleric, Sadrist candidates largely eschewed religious campaigning.
ISCI was formed in Iran in exile during the rule of Saddam Hussein and is headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. The Hakim family is one of Iraq's great religious dynasties.
Maliki, facing resentment from Iraq's Kurds and ISCI -- key allies in his ruling government, but who are now threatened by his growing strength -- has put feelers out for partners to bolster his rule, politicians close to him have said.
The expectation is that in many areas Maliki's supporters will ally themselves with Sadrists, giving Sadr an opportunity to get his followers back into Iraq's corridors of power.
Iraq's current ruling Shi'ite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, may be nearing its end ahead of parliamentary elections this year.
Sadr said if there was a will to renew the coalition without elements such as "sectarianism and factionalism", he would support it, and suggested the coalition be named the "United National Iraqi Alliance".
The name is a poke in the eye for ISCI, which had pushed for a separate semi-autonomous Shi'ite region of Iraq, and whose ties to Iran are viewed with suspicion by Iraqi nationalists.
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