13 Feb 2010

Iraq election shadowed by Saddam's legacy

12:01 pm on 13 February 2010

Campaigning has officially begun in Iraq for the parliamentary election due next month, but uncertainty still surrounds the eligibility of more than 170 candidates.

A vetting committee barred the candidates in question from standing because of their alleged links to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party. Many have lodged appeals with a panel of judges considering the banning orders.

The head of the vetting committee, Ali al-Lami, told Associated Press on Thursday that the panel had so far allowed 13 appeals and rejected at least 99.

The BBC reports that the problem could worsen Shia-Sunni sectarian tension and undermine the election's credibility. Although the controversial list of banned candidates straddles the sectarian divide, Sunni groups have felt disproportionately targeted.

US anxious for election credibility

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

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

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

Once-powerful Sunnis feel marginalised

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

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

Although a minority, Sunni Muslims were dominant under his rule; under today's Shia-led government they complain of being marginalised.