BAGHDAD The two biggest secular coalitions were hit hardest by this months decision to bar about 500 candidates from parliamentary elections in March, a top election official said Thursday, as efforts to resolve what has become a political crisis intensified.
The decision infuriated Sunnis and deepened their fears of being excluded from the political process. Critics have warned that the disqualifications, made on the grounds that the candidates promoted the Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein, could damage the credibility of the March 7 vote, which is crucial to American plans to withdraw.
The government panel that made the decision, the Accountability and Justice Commission, contends it was merely applying the law. Opponents have called its move an attempt to settle scores, and said it focused on secular opponents of Iraqs religious Shiite parties, backed by Iran.
The head of the independent electoral commission responsible for organizing the vote, Faraj al-Haidari, said that the list of those disqualified that was compiled by the Accountability and Justice Commission had candidates from all religious backgrounds and political affiliations. Secular candidates represented the largest number of disqualifications, according to the list published in local newspapers, divided almost evenly between Sunnis and Shiites, Mr. Haidari said.
You could say its 50-50, he said.
The commission barred 72 candidates from Iraqiya, the coalition led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister; Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi; and Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni lawmaker who was himself barred, Mr. Haidari said. It also disqualified 67 from another predominantly secular coalition, Iraq Unity, led by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, said Jinan Mubarak, a candidate from the group.
In an early effort to resolve the crisis, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. suggested that the list of the disqualified be set aside until after the elections, so that only those on the list who won would have to be examined for Baathist ties, according to Iraqi officials. Many politicians said that they supported this solution, but others questioned its legality and criticized Washington for interference in Iraqs affairs. Electoral officials have questioned the feasibility of such an idea.
This is the best possible solution, said Shaker Kattab, a spokesman for Mr. Hashimi. If charges of promoting the Baath Party were proved, he added, then candidates would give up their seats to someone from the same coalition who did not win.
Mr. Hashimi has contested the legality of the commission, which is headed by Ali Faisal al-Lami, who until last August was in an American-run prison in Iraq on suspicions that he was involved in bombings that singled out Americans in Iraq, and Ahmed Chalabi, once one of Washingtons top allies here, who is now believed to have close ties with Iran.
The commission took over the responsibilities of a de-Baathification committee in 2008, but its members were never approved by Parliament.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Thursday that a high-level committee would be set up to look into the legality of the commission and that a letter was sent to senior judges to determine whether the disqualifications would stand. I myself am not satisfied with the banning decision, Mr. Talabani told a news conference.
On Thursday, hundreds of people in the predominantly Shiite cities of Basra and Najaf, in southern Iraq, demonstrated in support of the decision. They held banners denouncing the former Hussein government and burned pictures of some of the barred candidates.
The Baathists cant return to Iraq, Jabar Amen, the head of the Basra Provincial Council, said during the protest. There is no place for them among us. There is no place for criminals.