BAGHDAD, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Damascus and Tehran have thrown their weight behind Iyad Allawi to unseat Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the March elections, sources said Wednesday.
Iraqis are in the midst of a contentious election season ahead of March 7 parliamentary elections. Months of wrangling over amendments to an election law were followed by a January decision to ban several influential Sunni leaders from taking part in the polls.
The Justice and Accountability Commission, led by former Washington favorite Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite, scoured the election lists for members with alleged ties to the outlawed Baath Party of Saddam Hussein.
Source told Iraq's al-Sumaria that Tehran and Damascus would back Allawi, the secular Shiite leader of the Iraqiya slate, as prime minister. He was previously prime minster in 2004-05.
Allawi sent a delegation to Tehran to discuss his candidacy, the report adds. Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, who heads the influential Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, is said to be soliciting other political slates to back Allawi over Maliki.
Washington has expressed concern over the influence Tehran has in the Iraqi election process. Chalabi allegedly launched his vetting campaign with the help of his colleagues in Iran.
U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno said in Washington last week that there was "direct intelligence" to suggest that Chalabi and his backers discussed the Iraqi elections with members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Iranian allegations prompted Saleh al-Mutlaq, the banned Sunni leader of the National Dialogue Front, to pull his slate out of the parliamentary contest.