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Battle over Iraq candidates' Baath links heads for courts

The two men who dominate the Accountability and Justice Commission say they will take the higher electoral committee to court.

BAGHDAD // Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al Lami, the men responsible for the purge of hundreds of candidates with Baathist links from the Iraqi elections, said they are taking the country's Independent Higher Electoral Commission to court in a bid to have votes for 55 candidates voided.

Mr Chalabi and Mr al Lami dominate the controversial Accountability and Justice Commission, in charge of the country's de-Baathification process, which handed down an order to ban 511 candidates just weeks before the election. "We are suing them because they are violating the law," said Mr Chalabi, chairman of the commission. "They wouldn't count the votes for the previous individuals, but why are they counting the votes for their replacements if they are also subject to the law?"

Fifty-five out of the 58 candidates who replaced the hundreds removed from ballot papers in the purge in late January are also "subject to de-Baathification" - listed in the commission's database of individuals with links to the party, said Mr al Lami, the executive director of the commission. But the IHEC still plans to count votes for the 58 replacement candidates to the party list, he said, a move that the men oppose. The commission only vets candidates when they put themselves forward for election.

The men had said they were going to file papers at the electoral court yesterday to have the votes for the candidates struck down, which could affect the result for six parliamentary seats. The pair, both affiliated with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi National Alliance coalition, have been accused of working with a sectarian agenda to marginalise Sunni candidates and take out political rivals in collaboration with Nouri al Maliki, the incumbent prime minister. Mr Chalabi defended the actions of the commission, saying that most of the barred candidates had been Shiites. "People will eventually thank us for it," he said.

The commission also plans to publish next week the reasons for the exclusion of the 177 candidates who appealed the banning. "It is not a witch-hunt and initially we did not publish the reasons why people were disbarred from the elections because we didn't want to defame them," Mr Chalabi said. "But there was a major outcry of lack of transparency so we are going to publish the full list of why each person was subject to the commission. Some of them took money, some were informers for Saddam's mukhaberat [secret service]."

In a country where the scars of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime are raw, the move to expose the candidates' precise roles could trigger reprisals. "What do we do? We are damned if we do, damned if we don't," Mr Chalabi said. The move to ban hundreds of candidates just weeks before the election drew international criticism and raised fears of a Sunni boycott. When Sunnis boycotted the 2005 national election they were left with little political representation and their frustrations stoked violence. Threats of a boycott from one Sunni group this month were later withdrawn and turnout in the March 7 election topped 62 per cent.

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