Court overturns ban on nine Iraqi candidates

An Iraqi court on Monday overturned a ban on nine newly elected parliament members.

Updated: May 17, 2010, 23:08 PM IST

Baghdad: An Iraqi court on Monday overturned a ban on nine newly elected parliament members who had been barred by a committee vetting candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein`s regime, said a committee official, overcoming a major hurdle in forming the new government.

The ban of the candidates, seven of which came from a Sunni-backed bloc, was perceived as an attempt to overturn election results that handed the Shiite prime minister a narrow loss and threatened to further delay what has already been a long, contentious election process.

"All the nine appeals were accepted, and we were informed officially about this and now they have the right to join the parliament as lawmakers," said the Shiite head of the committee, Ali al-Lami.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki narrowly lost the March 7 election to former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a fellow Shiite whose nonsectarian stance made him popular with the country`s Sunni community.

But al-Maliki has challenged the results at every turn, by demanding a recount of votes cast in Baghdad and benefiting by and sometimes appearing to encourage the actions of the Accountability and Justice Committee which initially pushed for the ban of the nine winning candidates.

If the candidates had been thrown out along with their votes, it could have tilted the election in the Shiite prime minister`s favor.

The results of the recount demanded by the prime minister were released Sunday and showed no fraud and did not change the outcome of the election.

And with the decision Monday by the seven-member appeals court of the Accountability and Justice Committee, the challenges to the election results appear to be coming to an end — possibly because the prime minister was able to use the intervening time to create an alliance with a rival conservative Shiite bloc, putting him in a solid position to create the next government.

Al-Maliki`s State of Law coalition has formed an alliance with the Iranian-backed Iraqi National Alliance, leaving them just four seats shy of the 163 seats needed to form a majority in parliament.

Some observers have questioned whether such tactics as calling for a recount and allowing the Accountability and Justice Committee to continue its campaign to bar candidates from the election was to stall the process so the grand Shiite alliance could be created.

Allawi, whose victory was celebrated by Sunnis across the country, still maintains it is his right to be the first to try to form a government but it is unclear whether he will ever get the chance, or if he does, who would be his prospective allies.

If Allawi`s coalition is cut out of the political process altogether, it runs the risk of disillusioning the country`s minority Sunni population.

Sunni anger with the political process was a key reason for the Sunni-led insurgency that wracked the country after the US-led invasion.

While violence in the country has fallen dramatically, high-profile bombings and shootings still continue.

In one attack Monday, gunmen disguised in Iraqi military uniforms beheaded a Sunni cleric and displayed his head on an electricity pole in the town where he preached against al Qaeda, the cleric`s son and Iraqi police said.

The son of the cleric Abdullah Jassim Shakour said to a news agency gunmen came to the family house in the town of Sadiyah, 60 miles (95 kilometers), north of Baghdad, took his father into a room, killed him and walked away with his head.

The family found the headless body in the house, said his son Mohammed. When they went to report the killing to the police, they saw his head on an electric pole in the center of the town.

"I was sleeping and screams from the street woke me up," said one of the victim`s neighbors. "When I stepped out of my house, I saw the head of the cleric on the top of the pole."

The neighbor spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of the militants. He also said the cleric was known for speaking against al Qaeda and called on worshippers to fight the militant group during last Friday`s prayer.

A police official confirmed that four gunmen stormed the house in the morning and beheaded him. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Insurgents have often used Iraqi uniforms to disguise themselves during attacks. The uniforms are widely available in Iraq.

Bureau Report