Baghdad: Official campaigning for Iraq`s March 7 general election started on Friday in a heated political atmosphere underscored by the angry reaction of a leading Sunni MP banned as a candidate.
Party activists pasted posters across Baghdad, adding to those that had been placed illegally at prominent billboard sites across the capital in recent weeks in an attempt to steal a march on others.
The run-up to the campaign has been dominated by the legacy of executed Saddam Hussein and his Sunni Arab former elite which continues to loom large, almost seven years after the dictator was ousted in a US-led invasion.
A row over candidates accused of ties to Saddam`s outlawed Baath party has left key members of the country`s dominant Shiite majority anxious to extinguish every trace of his influence, fanning tension among Sunnis.
An integrity and accountability committee announced late Thursday that 28 of 177 candidates banned from the vote for alleged Baathist links would be allowed to stand after all, a small proportion of more than 500 originally blacklisted.
Two Sunni parliamentary stalwarts, Saleh al-Mutlak and Dhafer al-Ani from the secular Iraqiya list of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, are among those who have been excluded.
"This is the coup de grace of the political process and the suicide of democracy in Iraq," Mutlak said in a television interview.
"I don`t think this measure will help the turnout but they will not succeed in splitting us from our people," he added.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials confirmed today that appeals by prominent Sunni politicians against a move to ban them from next month`s election had failed, opening the door to sectarian recriminations that could mar the vote.