Middle East
Iraq 'upholds' poll ban on two MPs
Tensions likely to escalate as Sunni leaders are reportedly barred from March 7 polls.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2010 18:33 GMT

A panel of Iraqi judges has reportedly upheld the decision to bar two prominent Sunni members of parliament from contesting in general elections scheduled for March 7.

The endorsement of the ban against Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafir al-Ani, as election campaigning officially got under way on Friday, is likely to raise tensions between the Shia-led government and Sunni Iraqis, who claim they are being marginalised.

The ruling on al-Mutlaq and al-Ani were said to be part of a judicial review of about 500 candidates, banned last month because of suspected ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

The panel of seven judges, reviewing appeals filed by many of the banned candidates, was expected to finish its work by Friday.

But officials from the Accountability and Justice Committee, which drew up the candidate blacklist, said on Thursday night that 99 of the appeals, including those of al-Mutlaq and al-Ani, had already been rejected.

"The judicial panel only authorised 28 [of the banned candidates] to participate in the elections," Ali al-Mahmud, a spokesman for the committee, told AFP news agency.

Political witch-hunt

Jane Arraf, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor in Baghdad, told Al Jazeera an announcement would be made on Saturday allowing 50 of the 500 banned candidates to stand.

But she said that the banning of al-Mutlaq and al-Ani had reinforced "fears on the part of some Sunnis that this is a Baathist-Sunni witch-hunt, so to speak".

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Still, Arraf said, "at the end of the day, it seems to have sunk in to Sunni voters - who virtually boycotted the vote four years ago - that this time, boycotting really won't do any good. There is expected to be quite a large participation".

Both al-Ani and al-Mutlaq say they have not been officially informed about the decision while an election commission spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the panel had yet to receive an order from the court disqualifying the two.

An appeals court had last week suspended the ban imposed on the candidates, saying that reviewing their files would take some time, and that they should be allowed to stand for election in the meantime.

However, under heavy political pressure, judges agreed to complete all the reviews by the end of this week.

Friday's politically sensitive developments came as at least four Shia Muslim worshippers died and 25 others were wounded in two roadside explosions in Kufa, 160km south of Baghdad, according to health officials.

In a separate attack on Friday, a bomb attached to a car killed a man and his son in Buhriz, about 60km northeast of Baghdad, police said.

Large-scale protests

Since it was compiled last month, the candidate blacklist has sparked large-scale protests by pro- and anti-Baath demonstrators across Iraq. Some have threatened to boycott the vote if the blacklisted candidates are not allowed to run.

Iraq's Shia-led government has pushed hard to keep Saddam-era officials out of public offices and security forces, continuing a policy initiated by Washington shortly after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Many Sunnis believe the policy went too far, penalising innocent people who had to join the Baath Party to advance in their chosen careers.

The March poll, Iraq's second parliamentary vote post-Saddam, comes at a critical juncture for the country, which is trying to put years of war behind it and jumpstart its economy with a raft of new oil deals.

Washington had expressed fear that any disputes could undermine the credibility of the elections.

More than 100,000 US troops remain in Iraq, but with major combat forces due to pull out by August, that number would drop to 50,000.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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