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Iraq lifts election ban on suspected Baathists

Man rips poster of Iraqi legislator Iraqi lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani, who was on the list of barred election candidates - 21 January 2010
There have been protests against candidates with alleged Baathist links

Iraq has lifted a ban on nearly 500 candidates barred from the March election for alleged links to the late Saddam Hussein's Baathist party.

The ban was lifted by an appeals panel on candidates listed last month by the post-Saddam Justice and Accountability Committee, election officials said.

Correspondents say the repeal of the ban has been welcomed by Sunni politicians who felt it targeted them.

Restrictions on former Baathists have been eased in recent years.

"The appeals panel decided to allow the banned candidates to participate in the next election and decided to postpone looking into the case until after the election," said Hamdiya al-Husseini, a member of the Independent High Electoral Commission.

She said successful candidates on the list would not be able to assume office until the appeals panel had given a final ruling on their cases.

Reconciliation concerns

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had asked for the ban to be lifted, saying the commission's decision might not have been legal as it was not approved by parliament.

Although the list included candidates from across the sectarian divide, the decision will be seen primarily as a victory for Sunni politicians, who had felt disproportionately targeted by the ban, says the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad.

Many in the once-dominant Sunni minority had regarded the barring of their candidates as a tactic to marginalise them.

A spokesman for prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq told the BBC he welcomed the ruling.

But there are those in Iraq who believe strongly that there is no place in public life for people with ties to the now-outlawed Baath party, through which Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, says our correspondent.

The 7 March general election is regarded as a crucial test for Iraq's national reconciliation process ahead of a planned US military withdrawal in stages.

Many Sunni Arabs boycotted the last parliamentary election in 2005.

Baathism is a form of secular Arab nationalism and was the ideology espoused by Saddam Hussein when he came to power.



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