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Iraq election impasse wanes as court voids ban on 9 candidates

Ruling clears way for forming new government

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra
Associated Press / May 18, 2010

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BAGHDAD — An Iraqi court overturned a ban yesterday on nine newly elected Parliament members who had been barred by a committee vetting candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime, clearing a major hurdle to forming the new government.

The ban of the candidates, seven of them from a Sunni-backed bloc, was seen as an attempt to overturn election results that handed the Shi’ite prime minister a narrow loss and threatened to further delay what has already been a long, contentious election process.

“All the nine appeals were accepted, and we were informed officially about this and now they have the right to join the Parliament as lawmakers,’’ said the Shi’ite head of the committee, Ali al-Lami.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki narrowly lost the March 7 election to Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister and fellow Shi’ite whose nonsectarian stance made him popular with the Sunni minority.

But Maliki has challenged the results at every turn, by demanding a recount of votes cast in Baghdad and benefiting by and sometimes appearing to encourage the actions of the Accountability and Justice Committee, which initially pushed for the ban of the nine winning candidates. If the candidates had been thrown out along with their votes, it could have tilted the election in the prime minister’s favor.

The results of the recount demanded by the prime minister were released Sunday, however, and showed no fraud. They did not change the outcome of the election. And with the decision yesterday by the seven-member appeals court of the Accountability and Justice Committee, the challenges to the election results appear to be coming to an end.

In the intervening time, however, the prime minister was able to create an alliance with a rival, conservative Shi’ite bloc that put him in a solid position to create the next government.

Maliki’s State of Law coalition has formed an alliance with the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance, and now stands just four seats shy of the 163 seats needed to form a majority in Parliament.

Separately yesterday, assailants disguised in Iraqi military uniforms beheaded a Sunni cleric and stuck his head on an electricity pole in the town where he preached against Al Qaeda, the cleric’s son and Iraqi police said.

The son of the cleric Abdullah Jassim Shakour said the gunmen wearing military uniforms came to the family house in the town of Sadiyah north of Baghdad, took his father into a room, killed him, and walked away with his head.

A neighbor said the cleric was known for speaking against Al Qaeda and called on worshipers to fight the militant group during last Friday’s prayer.