Iraq's two major Shia blocs have agreed to merge, brightening prospects of the emergence of a government, two months after parliamentary elections were held.

“An agreement was reached to form a parliamentary bloc through the union of the two blocs,” Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), said in a statement read by former government adviser Razzaq al-Kadhami.

With 159 seats now under its command, the Shia bloc will need to rope in only four more seats to reach the simple majority 51 per cent mark in the 325-member Parliament. This can be easily crossed especially in case the Kurdish parties, strong in northern Iraq, support the merger.

Analysts say consolidation of these factions is a victory for Iran which is highly influential among the Shia formations in Iraq.

The Iraqi National Movement or Iraqiyah, headed by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, slammed the formation of the new Shia coalition as a move to isolate his party. The Iraqiyah party had won 91 seats, the highest among any single formation which contested the March 7 elections.

Apart from achieving a simple majority, the Shia bloc has to cross two remaining hurdles. First, it has to agree on its choice of a new Prime Minister. Observers say that the chances of Mr. Maliki getting a second term are slim because of the stiff opposition to his name by the 40-seats strong group led by Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. The former Prime Minister, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Adil Abdul Mahdi, currently Vice-President, and Baqir Jabr are the other heavyweight contenders for the post.

Second, the Shia parties are debating the incorporation of the Iraqiyah formation, which has wide support among the large Sunni minority, in a new national unity government. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, headed by Ammar al-Hakim, which is part of the new Shia super-coalition, has been insisting on the inclusion of “other national forces” in the new government.

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