Iraq's Campaign Season Opens With Controversy Campaigning officially began Friday. But an appeals court Thursday banned prominent Sunni candidates from the March 7 parliamentary election, citing alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party. The move has Iraqis further doubting the legitimacy of the election.
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Iraq's Campaign Season Opens With Controversy

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Iraq's Campaign Season Opens With Controversy

Iraq's Campaign Season Opens With Controversy

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.

In Iraq, campaigning has begun three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections. But the day was marred by news that two top candidates have been barred from running, throwing the political process into disarray.

NPRs Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Baghdad on the start of a murky election season.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the side of the road in the neighborhood of Mansour, a group of men pound a large election poster into the ground. The workmen here say they are afraid of becoming targets of rival political groups.

Mr. HYDER ALI(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hyder Ali says our job is risky. We wont hang the posters in certain areas because its too dangerous.

The placard shows the former Sunni speaker of parliament Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. He stands over a group of weeping widows. His slogan: We will not forgive those you have wronged you. Welcome to Iraqs election season, where reconciliation is not a popular campaign issue and fear mongering seems to be the name of the game.

The most recent bogeymen to be resurrected in order to garner votes are members of Saddam Husseins outlawed Baath Party. In a speech to supporters, the leader of the Shiite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, took aim at them.

Mr. AMMAR AL-HAKIM (Leader, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq): (Through translator) Iraqis can never allow the Baathists to return. Never. We will face down the Saddamists with you, honorable people.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A shadowy body called the Accountability and Justice Commission, a successor to the controversial De-Baathification Commission, recently outlawed over 500 candidates for their alleged ties to the Baath Party. It was widely seen as a move by ruling Shiite political parties to disqualify potential rivals ahead of the vote.

The United States and others tried to get the ban overturned. But the matter was referred to a seven-judge appeals panel. Yesterday, it ruled the two key Sunni candidates, among others, would not be allowed to run for office. Saleh al-Mutlak and Dhafir al-Ani were expected to do well in Sunni areas, where the de-Baathification ruling is deeply unpopular.

In an interview with NPR today, Saleh al-Mutlak, whos a current member of parliament, said the upcoming elections will not be legitimate.

Mr. SALEH AL-MUTLAK (Head, Iraqi National Dialogue Front): Of course, they are not credible. If my opponent have the opportunity to wish me out, what kind of election we have? What standard of election we have? What do you have more than that to say that there is no legitimacy for this election?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mutlak says he, like millions of Iraqis, was once a member of the Baath Party, but he quit it more than 30 years ago. The fallout from the de-Baathification crisis is one of the main concerns of the U.S. administration. It wants elections to go smoothly so that it can withdraw the over 100,000 troops here.

On the streets of the capital, Iraqis say they are wary and confused about the turmoil surrounding these elections. Ahmad Ali Abid said he will not vote.

Mr. AHMAD ALI ABID: (Through translator) Saleh al-Mutlak had nothing to do with the Baath Party. It was only a pretext used by the government to exclude him because they knew he would achieve a landslide victory.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Basil Munim says he supports the ban. He says the Baath Party damaged this country. Still, he thinks politicians are not focusing on what is important.

Mr. BASIL MUNIM: (Through translator) We want the new government to work for the interests of the people, so we can see a change because since the invasion, we havent seen any tangible progress.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Musanih Jawad says Iraqis are disillusioned.

Mr. MUSANIH JAWAD: (Through translator) No one is telling the truth and no one believes anyone anymore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, when I receive my ballot on election day, I wont choose any candidate. I will only write this: Have mercy on us.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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