- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2010

BAGHDAD | Hundreds of protesters denounced Iraqis still loyal to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party Sunday as tensions soared over the decision to blacklist suspected Ba’athists from next month’s election.

Protesters chanted and carried signs that said, “No, No to Ba’ath Party!” and “The return of the Ba’ath Party is a return to mass graves.”

Shi’ite officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies, are trying to purge all high-level posts of Iraqis with ties to the Ba’ath Party, which was outlawed in Iraq in 2003.

A decision to ban about 450 candidates from March 7 parliamentary elections because of suspected ties to Saddam’s regime has threatened to reopen wounds between once-dominant Sunnis and the Shi’ite majority.

The ban is widely seen as targeting Sunnis, though Shi’ites are on the blacklist as well.

Some Sunni leaders have threatened to boycott the election if the purge stands. That, in turn, risks throwing the election into chaos and would raise questions about its credibility.

Parliament met briefly Sunday but did not take action on the ban, which was suspended by an appeals court. Lawmakers are expected to meet again Monday as a panel of judges combs through the list.

Ali Al-Lami, executive director of a vetting panel that initially purged suspected Ba’athists from the ballot, said that a judicial appeals court ruled Sunday to uphold the ban in 26 cases so far. None of the cases were of high-profile candidates.

Sunnis, who led the country under Saddam, boycotted a critical first nationwide vote in January 2005, resulting in a Shi’ite-dominated government. Resentment over that loss contributed to the country’s deadly insurgency.

In a closed meeting on Saturday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani warned that Ba’athists might try to “launch a military coup,” according to a member of Mr. Talabani’s party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The party member asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

On Sunday, a woman planning to run in the March election was fatally shot in the restive northern city of Mosul, police said. Suha Abdulla Jarallah was a 36-year-old Sunni candidate.

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