By Leila Fadel and Qais Mizher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 8, 2010; A10
BAGHDAD -- At least 15 parties will be banned from upcoming parliamentary elections because they have been linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party or have promoted Baathist ideals, Iraqi officials said Thursday.
The decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission, in charge of cleansing high-level Baathists from the ranks of the government and security forces, seemed to be an attempt to purge candidates with links to the old political order, many of whom are popular among secular nationalist voters. The move is a blow to hopes of bringing opposition figures -- who turned to violent resistance over the past seven years -- into the political fold, part of the U.S. strategy to bolster the government.
Saleh al-Mutlak, a popular Sunni lawmaker who joined forces with Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite and former Baathist with links to the CIA, called the move "foolish" and warned that it may lead to a popular uprising in the streets. Mutlak, an agriculturist, has long been a defender of former Baathists and grew popular among Sunnis, most notably in the western Sunni province of Anbar, during provincial elections last year.
"The reaction from the street will be very strong," said Mutlak, whose party, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, was barred from fielding candidates in the parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 7. "The list we are in now is very strong, and it might get the biggest bloc in the parliament. . . . They are afraid, and they will try to weaken us."
Mutlak accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of attempting to sideline him politically. On Thursday, he confined himself to his hotel in the heavily fortified Green Zone after rumors of an assassination attempt. He said he plans to appeal the decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission in court.
Ali Faisal al-Lami, the general director of the Justice and Accountability Commission, said the panel decided to ban Mutlak's party from the elections because he had made statements in support of the Baathists.