BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has asked the electoral commission to push ahead with planning for provincial elections in April, his media advisor said on Friday, despite legal challenges that could end in the dissolution of the commission.

The provincial elections will serve as an indicator of the strength of Iraq's political groupings ahead of a parliamentary vote due in 2014.

"The prime minister received the members of the Independent Electoral Commission (IHEC) in his office on Thursday and called on them to hold the provincial council elections on schedule, without any delay," Ali al-Moussawi said.

Moussawi gave no specific date for the vote, but said it would probably be held in April, in line with a decision by the previous electoral commission.

The new commission was approved in September, after more than six months of wrangling over the line-up, which includes four Shi'ite Muslims, two Sunnis, two Kurds and a Turkmen woman.
But the body still faces a number of legal challenges from political groups, civil society organizations and minorities who have lodged appeals with the Federal Court. It is not clear when the Federal Court will rule on the appeals.

The IHEC now has 60 days to announce the timing of the vote.

According to the constitution, provincial elections are held every four years in Iraq.

The Iraqi political arena has seen intense jostling in the last year, with many new coalitions and parties emerging in the run-up to the election.

(Writing by Suadad al-Salhy; Editing by Jon Hemming)