Middle East News
Iraqi Shiites protest "Baathist" election candidates (Roundup)
Feb 7, 2010, 15:12 GMT
Baghdad - Thousands of supporters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Dawaa Party demonstrated outside the house of parliament in Baghdad on Sunday, to call for the exclusion of 'Baathist' candidates from the March polls.
Al-Maliki had called for a special session of parliament to meet Sunday to discuss the electoral commission's decision last week to reverse its previous ban on some 500 candidates in the parliamentary elections, imposed because of their alleged connections to the former ruling Baath Party.
But that session was postponed for a day to allow a parliamentary delegation to hear the Iraqi Supreme Court's justifications for lifting the ban, parliamentary speaker Iyad al-Samarrai said in a news conference.
Outside the building, senior Iraqi Shiite leaders allied with the prime minister called for a purge of former Baathists from government.
'We will not allow Baath Party members to return to government,' Baghdad governor Salah al-Razak, also from al-Maliki's Dawaa Party, told the crowd gathered in Baghdad's heavily fortified 'Green Zone.'
'We call on our brothers in other provinces to root out the Baathists from all circles, and not allow a single one to remain after today,' al-Razak said.
Similar protests took place in the southern, and predominantly Shiite Muslim, cities of Basra and Najaf Sunday.
The controversy over the candidates has inflamed political debate ahead of the official start of the campaign, which was last week postponed by five days until February 12 to allow for more time to settle the question.
The ban, imposed by Shiite politicians with ties to Iran, had caused anger among many Iraqi Sunni Muslims, many of whom said they had already felt disenfranchised by changes to the country's electoral law late last year that they said would decrease their representation in the new polls.
In the disputed northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Sunni Arab politicians and their Turkmen allies had called for close international monitoring of voting , saying they feared fraud and voter-intimidation after it emerged that 40 candidates from the city fell under the ban.
They had previously threatened to boycott the polls if the electoral law was not changed to meet there concerns about the representation of Sunni Muslim politicians in the new parliament.
The question of voting in Kirkuk, which many Iraqi Kurds hope to make the capital of a future independent state, has proved so contentious that the city and its environs were left out of previous polls since the 2003, US-led invasion of the country.