Page last updated at 07:00 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Iraq election campaign under way amid candidacy row

Iraq election poster
The election has been delayed by nearly two months

Campaigning for the election in Iraq is getting under way amid a continuing row over the ban on scores of candidates.

As posters appeared across Iraq for Friday's start, the fate of more than 170 candidates is still undecided.

A panel is continuing its work hearing appeals from the candidates, many banned for ties to the Baath party through which Saddam Hussein governed.

Correspondents say the row could worsen Shia-Sunni sectarian tension and undermine the election's credibility.

US fears

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, in Baghdad, says that although the controversial list of banned candidates straddles the sectarian divide, Sunni groups have felt disproportionately targeted.

The original blacklist contained around 500 names but that number has been whittled down to just over 170.

These candidates have appealed to a panel of judges to overturn the banning order from the election vetting committee.

Many other banned candidates have either decided not to appeal or have been replaced by others.

Ali al-Lami, head of the political vetting committee, told Associated Press on Thursday the judicial panel had allowed 13 appeals, rejected at least 99 and was continuing its work.

The row has been a major concern for the US, which is preparing to withdraw large numbers of forces by the middle of this year.

There are still more than 100,000 American troops in Iraq.

The US fears that if the election lacks credibility among Sunni voters, Iraq could slide back into sectarian violence.

The election has been pushed back by nearly two months because of the row.

There have been angry protests by both Sunni and Shia groups.

Shia parties insist the Baathists must be purged and have voiced fears about what they see as American interference in the electoral process.

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

Although a minority, Sunni Muslims were dominant under Saddam Hussein's rule but have since complained of being marginalised under the post-Saddam Shia-led government.

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