BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A Sunni Arab coalition submitted its list of candidates for the December election Friday, joining other political factions in the race and signaling greater Sunni participation in a process Washington hopes will help speed the day when U.S. soldiers can go home.

The U.S. command announced that five more American service members were killed in Iraq, indicating the challenges still facing the United States and its partners as this country approaches a decisive stage in its political development. It has been six months since Iraq’s government took office April 28.

At least 16 coalitions as well as an undetermined number of parties and independents met the Friday deadline of filing for the Dec. 15 election, when voters select a 275-member parliament to serve for four years.

It will be the first full-term parliament in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

The election follows the Oct. 15 ratification of the new constitution, which many Sunni Arabs opposed. Despite the failure of Sunni Arabs to block the charter, the decision by a Sunni coalition to participate and the presence of prominent Sunnis on other tickets indicated that many members of the community, which forms the core of the insurgency, have not abandoned the political process.

Political battle lines, in fact, have been drawn as before along ethnic and religious lines, a development that complicates nation-building in this factious, war-ravaged country of 27 million people.

The major blocs include a Shiite alliance built around two religious parties with ties to Iran, a broad coalition led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and the Sunni Arabs. Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties will run on a single ticket.

Allawi’s ticket includes several prominent Sunni Arabs, including Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer and Sunni elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, as well as the communists. It hopes to appeal to Iraqis fed up with religiously based politics.

But the ethnic and religious character of most of the tickets illustrates the sectarian nature of Iraq’s postwar politics. Following the collapse of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime, majority Shiites and Kurds have been pressing for the power so long denied them.

Many Sunni Arabs believed the Americans and their foreign allies favored the Shiites and Kurds, thereby fueling the insurgency and triggering sectarian reprisal killings that have sharpened the religious and ethnic fault lines.

The U.S. military said an Army soldier died of injuries suffered Thursday when his patrol hit a roadside bomb in Baghdad. When other soldiers arrived, a second bomb exploded, killing another soldier, the military said.

In Saqlawiyah, 45 miles west of Baghdad, two Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), were killed Thursday by mortar or rocket fire, the military said.

That same day, an Army soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) was killed when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb explosion in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.

At least 2,010 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

With many Sunni Arabs having boycotted the Jan. 30 balloting, the Shiite coalition – the United Iraqi Alliance – won about 140 of parliament’s 275 seats. The Kurds got 75 seats, disproportionately greater than their share of the population, estimated at 15-20 percent.

The Shiite alliance is unlikely to repeat that success, although the bloc is expected to win the largest number of seats. Shiites form an estimated 60 percent of the population.

The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is widely perceived as having failed to improve services or reduce the violence, which has claimed at least 3,902 Iraqi lives since the administration took office in April.

Fewer Shiites voted in the constitutional referendum than had been expected, signaling discontent with the performance of Shiite politicians.

Unlike the last election, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has withheld his endorsement of the Shiite Alliance. Al-Sistani’s support in January is widely credited with the alliance’s strong electoral performance.

The alliance was also unable to persuade Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon insider, to join its ranks. Chalabi will head of his own ticket, which could further split the Shiite vote. Efforts were under way late Friday to try to persuade Chalabi to rejoin the alliance.

Leaders of the alliance dismiss criticism, pointing out that the government was able to produce a constitution and tackle corruption despite its short tenure in office.

“We could not tackle terrorism in a comprehensive manner in such a short time,” said lawmaker Jalal al-Sagheer.

The Sunni Arab bloc includes the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s largest Sunni Arab group, and has said it may join forces with Allawi’s supporters after the election.

The Kurdish bloc is expected to end up with 40 to 50 seats and may also ally with Allawi to try to form a government if the Shiites fall short of a majority. The Kurds, who are mostly Sunnis, have bickered with their Shiite allies in the current government.



Associated Press correspondent Mariam Fam contributed to this report from Baghdad.

AP-ES-10-28-05 1650EDT


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