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Influential Group Threatens To Boycott Iraq Election

Salih al-Mutlaq, an influential secular Sunni politician (with hand on lectern), helping announce the creation of the Iraqi Patriotic Movement in October.
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- A political group including leading members of Iraq's Sunni minority has threatened to boycott national polls in March after one of their leaders was targeted for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party.

The "Iraqi List," headed by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, and MP Salih al-Mutlaq, an influential secular Sunni politician, blasted the decision from an independent state committee to ban al-Mutlaq from the elections.

It is feared that a boycott from leading Sunni politicians like al-Mutlaq and al-Hashemi could cut off wider participation from Iraqi Sunnis, which would be a grave setback as Iraq seeks to solidify security gains ahead of the U.S. troop drawdown.

The United States has vowed to halt combat operations this summer and withdraw its troops entirely by 2012.

"The leaders [of the "Iraqi List"] call all those involved to correct this grave mistake as soon as possible in order to maintain the positive electoral atmosphere," the group's leadership said in a statement aired late on January 8.

The statement came a day after the government's Justice and Accountability Commission, which is responsible for ensuring the constitutionally banned Ba'ath party does not return to Iraqi politics, barred al-Mutlaq and the National Dialogue Front he heads because of unspecified links to or support for the Ba'ath Party.

"If this [ban] is enacted, the leaders of the list and its allies will reconsider their participation in the election, which could jeopardize the electoral and political process," a spokesman said.

No Details Of Charges

Many Sunnis, forced from dominance after Saddam's ouster, boycotted the last parliamentary election in 2005, marginalizing them at a vulnerable moment and fuelling sectarian violence.

Securing true political participation from not just Iraq's newly empowered Shi'ite majority but also minority Sunnis and Kurds is seen as key to ensuring violence does not erupt anew.

But it is unclear what the edict from the commission, which banned al-Mutlaq and a dozen other groupings, will have given the stalemate over the commission's leadership and a larger battle over how best to deal with former Baath party members.

The government and parliament have not been able to agree on new leadership for the committee for over a year, and members of parliament have accused Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government of dragging its feet in welcoming former Ba'athists -- many of them Sunnis -- back into government.

The commission was set up to guard against a return of the Ba'ath party, which ruled Iraq from the 1960s until 2003, and to usher lower-level party members fired en masse by U.S. officials after Saddam's ouster back into government.

The ban, which would be enacted out by Iraq's electoral authority, IHEC, can be appealed in court. IHEC officials were in a meeting today and not available for comment.

The commission has not shared details of its charges against al-Mutlaq, who denies any wrongdoing.

The Iraqi List, which also includes Deputy Prime Minister Rafie al-Esawi, a Sunni, has been seeking to eat into the strong showing expected from two leading Shi'ite coalitions.

One of those lists, State of Law, is headed by al-Maliki. The other is headed by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the country's biggest Shi'ite party.