x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Iraq election campaign starts with many candidates still banned

Iraq officially kick off the election campaign season today, just hours after an appeals panel banned a number of candidates.

BAGHDAD // Iraq officially kicked off the election campaign season today, just hours after an appeals panel banned a number of candidates from running in the nationwide vote next month. Campaign posters were plastered across Baghdad and other cities by early this morning, urging people to go to the polls. In Basra, one poster read: "Your city needs someone who knows what Basra needs." But in a move that was likely to raise tensions between the Shiite-led government and Sunnis who claim they are politically undermined, an appeals panel late last night cleared only 28 candidates out of the hundreds blacklisted over suspected ties to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Mudhafar al Battat, a spokesman for the government-backed Accountability and Justice Committee, which was given the task of weeding out hardcore supporters of Saddam's outlawed Baath party, said: "The appeals were accepted either because of similarity of names or because there was not enough evidence against them." Mr al Battat declined to identify those candidates barred from the election. Ali al Lami, head of the committee that drafted the blacklist, said he had been informed by the appeals panel of its decision to bar Saleh al Mutlaq and Dhafir al Ani, the most prominent Sunni politicians. Mr Al Mutlaq, a fierce critic of Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, has acknowledged that he was a Baathist until the late 1970s but quit the party. Mr al Ani took the helm of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament after its moderate leader, Harith al Obeidi, was assassinated in June 2009.

A number of those candidates blacklisted were either replaced by their party or dropped out of the election altogether. Within hours of the decision, campaign posters in Baghdad were plastered across concrete blast walls that double as makeshift billboards, a practice that has become popular in Iraq in recent years. The start of campaigning had been postponed by more than a week to give the panel time to investigate the appeals of candidates on the blacklist.

Many candidates, including Mr al Maliki, were forced to remove campaign posters earlier this week after they were put up before the official campaign period began. *AP