By Salam Faraj (AFP) – 1 hour ago
BAGHDAD — Iraq's election organisers on Thursday barred nearly 500 politicians and parties from contesting the country's upcoming national poll, including many linked to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party.
"We decided this afternoon to exclude around 500 names and political entities from the list of candidates," said Hamdia Husseini, a senior official with the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC).
Husseini did not specifically mention the Baath party, but said the excluded candidates "fell under the law of the committee of justice and integrity" which bars Saddam loyalists from taking part in elections.
She said those who had been barred had three days to appeal the decision, during which time they could also present an alternative list of names to contest the March 7 vote.
The decision follows the exclusion on January 8 of 14 politicians and parties linked to Saddam, and is likely to be seen as a further blow for national reconciliation efforts.
Among the most prominent to be banned was Saleh al-Mutlak, a secular Sunni lawmaker who heads the National Dialogue Front.
Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish MP, said that decision would harm efforts towards national reconciliation, seen as key to reducing instability in a country that was engulfed in sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007.
Baath party membership was a key condition for advancement in public sector employment during Saddam's regime.
According to IHEC figures, around 6,500 candidates registered to compete in the March poll, the second national parliamentary vote since Saddam's ouster, from 86 political parties, comprising 12 coalitions, as well as independents.
The election, which falls on a Sunday, the first day of the working week in Iraq, is seen as a crucial step towards consolidating its democracy and securing a complete US military exit by the end of 2011, as planned.
The poll was originally scheduled for January 16 but was delayed because of repeated disagreements over the electoral law governing the ballot.
The election will see the number of MPs increase from 275 to 325, including three additional ones for provinces in the northern autonomous Kurdish region.
Of the total, eight seats will be allocated to minorities, including Christians, and seven to smaller parties which win national support but not enough votes to gain representation at provincial level.