The Associated Press
Friday, Jan. 8, 2010 | 6:57 a.m.
A parliament committee has moved to bar a prominent Sunni politician from running in the upcoming elections because of his alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, the candidate said Friday, a decision likely to further stoke Iraq's sectarian tensions.
A decision to bar the popular Sunni leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, from taking part in the March 7 elections could lead to widespread Sunni unrest and disillusionment with the political process. Such unrest following the 2005 elections that Sunnis largely boycotted was the key reason for the violent insurgency that followed the next two years.
The executive director of the Accountability and Justice Committee, Ali Faysal Allami, said the committee disqualified Saleh al-Mutlaq's party on Thursday from running in the March 7 vote because al-Mutlaq had allegedly promoted Saddam's Baath Party. The party is now banned in Iraq.
A party representative, Haydar al-Mulla, said Friday that the decision applied only to al-Mutlaq and not the party.
It was not immediately clear whether al-Mutlaq, who currently serves in parliament, would be able to take part in the upcoming election. Officials from the country's Independent High Electoral Commission, which oversees the voting, did not respond to repeated requests for comment Friday, and it was not clear who had the final say in the issue.
Al-Mutlaq said Friday that he will appeal the decision and warned that many Sunnis were already talking about boycotting the election, a possibly crucial development that could affect the integrity of the vote.
"The mood of the people is very bad," he said by telephone from his party headquarters.
Contrary to 2005, many Sunni political parties are expected to take part in the vote, but al-Mutlaq's ouster could throw Sunni participation in doubt.
Al-Mutlaq, who referred to the committee as the "accountability but not justice" committee, said Friday that the decision to bar him was taken because his party was becoming too popular.
"There is a big possibility that they will be the biggest block in the parliament, so they want to weaken it before the election," he said.
Al-Mutlaq is one of the country's most popular Sunni politicians who fared well during the provincial elections a year ago. He has repeatedly attacked the current Shiite-led government, saying that they have targeted his party and followers in an attempt to keep the group from doing well during the vote.
Al-Mutlaq, who is from the predominantly Sunni city of Fallujah in Iraq's Anbar province, has also accused the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of being a pawn of neighboring Iran.
The Accountability and Justice Committee, formerly referred to as the De-Baathification Committee, is tasked with vetting parliamentary candidates for the upcoming election for ties to the former regime.
Their decision was met with scorn by many Sunni voters.
"It is a fabricated move because it is not sensible that a man who took part in 2005 elections and the provincial elections be barred now," Khalid Ibrahim, 45.
But he questioned whether the decision would stand, saying that in a few days the situation would be back to normal. "They have done good to al-Mutlaq's list because his list will get more votes after this move."
Al-Mutlaq said Friday during a news conference at the headquarters for his party that his supporters had been barred from organizing demonstrations in Baghdad and other cities.
"We demand the Iraqi government allow the people to express their opinions in the peaceful ways," he said.
Associated Press writers Bushra Juhi and Saad Abdul-Kadir in Baghdad and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Portland, Oregon contributed to this report.