Iraq PM vows to lead diverse coalition in May election

BAGHDAD — Iraq's prime minister says he will lead a "cross-sectarian" list in national elections proposed for May, hoping to build off last year's victory against the Islamic State group.

Haider al-Abadi, who comes from Iraq's Shiite majority, assumed office in 2014, weeks after IS stormed across northern and central Iraq. Since then, Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition have gradually retaken all the territory once held by the Sunni extremists.

In a statement late Saturday, al-Abadi said his Victory Alliance will "boost the country's integrity and national sovereignty, correct mistakes and achieve justice and equality for all Iraqis." He said the "miracle of victory and unity must lead to a new and brighter era."

The statement did not provide details about the composition of the list.

Al-Abadi's main challenger is expected to be Nouri al-Maliki, who served as prime minister for eight years before stepping aside in 2014. Al-Maliki, who currently serves as one of three vice presidents, was widely accused of pursuing sectarian policies that alienated the country's Sunni minority, leading many Sunnis to initially welcome IS as liberators.

Both are members of the Shiite Islamist Dawa party, but al-Maliki said Saturday he would run separately at the head of his State of Law list. The Dawa party has said its supporters can choose between the two.

Iraq's Cabinet has proposed elections for May 12, a date that awaits final parliamentary approval. Sunni leaders have called for the vote to be delayed in order to allow the more than 3 million people displaced by the fighting to return to their homes. Al-Abadi's government has insisted the elections be held on time.

The U.N. mission to Iraq said the election commission faces "significant challenges" but would be able to "deliver a timely, fair and transparent national election."

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