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Iraq leader seeks ruling on blacklist committee

By Adam Schreck
Associated Press / January 22, 2010

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BAGHDAD - Iraq’s president sought to calm rising preelection tensions yesterday, pushing for a legal ruling on whether a political vetting panel had the right to blacklist hundreds of candidates for suspected links to Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led regime.

The proposed ban has muddied preparations for parliamentary elections March 7 and raised fears that US-backed efforts to promote national unity could be undermined.

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to visit Baghdad soon, underscoring Washington’s concern about the flare-up between the Shi’ites who claimed wide control of Iraq after Hussein’s fall and Sunnis who seek a greater say in Iraq’s decisions.

The friction was on display in Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated south, where protesters yesterday beat campaign posters with shoes - a deeply insulting act in the Arab world - and set them alight while chanting slogans including “No to Ba’athists’’ in a reference to Hussein’s Sunni-dominated Ba’ath Party.

President Jalal Talabani said the three-member presidential council he leads has sent a letter to the head of the Higher Judicial Council requesting a ruling after the vetting committee banned 511 candidates in a move that threatens to cast a shadow over the vote.

“I, myself, am not satisfied with the banning decision,’’ said Talabani, a Kurd who has strongly backed reconciliation between Iraq’s main Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish groups. He told reporters he was seeking a ruling on “whether this committee that issued the decision is legitimate or not’’ because it does not have full parliamentary backing.

The government-sanctioned body behind the ban, the Accountability and Justice Committee, is tasked with weeding out from the government and security forces hardcore supporters of Hussein’s outlawed Ba’ath Party. Like the government, the committee is dominated by Shi’ite Muslims and its decisions are seen as biased against the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority that prospered under Hussein.

A predecessor of the committee was known as the de-Ba’athification Commission and was created by US occupation authorities after the American-led, 2003 invasion of Iraq. That panel faced Sunni charges that it acted with excessive zeal in purging Ba’athists.