BAGHDAD // Iraq's main Sunni party said yesterday it is dropping out of next month's national elections, seizing on US concerns about Iran's influence in the political process as proof that the vote will not be legitimate. A statement from the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue stopped short of urging Sunni voters to boycott the March 7 election.
But the party called on other political groups to join it in withdrawing from the ballot. Yesterday's announcement raises the likelihood that the results of the vote will be called into question. US and United Nations diplomats have expressed fears that a Sunni boycott that hands victory to Shiites would throw the results of the election into doubt. In turn, that could open the door to a new round of violence and delay plans for American troops to leave Iraq.
"The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue cannot continue in a political process run by a foreign agenda," the party spokesman Haidar al-Mullah said in a statement, referring to Iran's alleged interference. He said the party decided to pull out of the vote after the US ambassador, Christopher Hill, and Gen Ray Odierno, the top American military commander in Iraq, each described the Shiite leaders of a candidate-vetting panel as having ties to Iran.
The vetting panel is led by Shiite politicians Ali al Lami and Ahmed Chalabi. It banned more than 440 candidates whom it described as loyalists to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party. Most of the blacklisted candidates are Sunni, although some are Shiite. Among those barred from running is the Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq, the head of the National Dialogue party. Mr Al-Mutlaq has said he quit the Baath party in the 1970s.
US and UN officials in Baghdad did not immediately respond to requests for comment yesterday. A perception among Sunnis that they are being shut out of the election could set back progress the US military has made since 2007 in reversing the insurgency, which threatened Iraq with civil war. A breakdown in security could also hamper US plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of August, a step that is critical to Barack Obama's new focus on Afghanistan.
Iraq's prime minister Nouri al Maliki has blamed Baathists, in part, for a spate of horrific attacks on government buildings, hotels and religious sites since August that killed hundreds of people. * Associated Press