BAGHDAD – A leading coalition supported by Sunnis and secularists suspended campaigning Saturday and hinted at a possible boycott of next month’s elections to protest a decision to uphold a ban on candidates because of their alleged ties to the outlawed Baath Party.
The Iraqi National Movement coalition headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced that it would temporarily suspend its campaign and demanded action to reverse the bans against those being linked to the party that ruled under Saddam Hussein.
The group called for an urgent meeting of top leaders, a review of the banning process and an emergency session of parliament.
“This situation raises serious questions about the usefulness of the coming elections, whose results some in the political arena wish to predetermine through intimidation, blackmail, creation of crises and the sowing of chaos,” a statement by the coalition said.
Most observers think a Sunni Arab election boycott unlikely, because the last such boycott, in January 2005, left the Sunni minority shut out of power. But the monthlong dispute over the banned candidates has already plunged Iraq into political turmoil in the weeks before an election that U.S. officials hope will stabilize the country enough for American troops to go home.
Although the list of candidates barred despite appeal was shorter than originally anticipated, that was only because most of the 454 who had been ordered not to run did not appeal. Of the 171 appeals to the disbarments ordered by the powerful Accountability and Justice Commission, 145 were upheld and only 26 were overturned by a panel of judges created to hear the appeals, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission said.
Among those barred were two prominent Sunni members of parliament, Saleh Mutlak and Dhafir Ani, who had been accused of making statements “promoting” the Baath Party
Judges had earlier ruled that all of the barred candidates should be allowed to run because the court did not have time to hear their appeals before the March 7 balloting. But that ruling had been greeted with a storm of Shiite Muslim opposition. The judges backed down and said they would rule on the cases in time for the official start of the campaign Friday.
In a reminder of the threat of violence hanging over the elections, small bombs exploded Saturday night outside the offices of five mostly Sunni political parties, including the one headed by Mutlak.