Iraq MPs to meet over 'Saddam' candidates row

BAGHDAD: Iraqi MPs were gathering today to debate a contentious decision to allow hundreds of candidates linked to executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to compete in next month’s elections.

Parliament was set to reconvene at 1:00 pm (1000 GMT) parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai said, after an emergency session was called off Sunday as MPs had not received a judicial report needed before they start their meeting.

The March 7 general election, the second in Iraq since Saddam’s ouster, is seen as a test of reconciliation between the Sunni minority dominant under the former dictator and the Shiite majority represented by the present government.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government last week branded a judicial panel’s decision to reinstate the candidates as “illegal,” and ordered that parliament be recalled.

Only 75 of the war-torn country’s 275 MPs attended the called-off session on Sunday, which coincided with demonstrations against the overturn of the ban in the Iraqi capital and the dominant Shiite cities of Basra and Najaf.

Several hundred protesters congregated outside Baghdad provincial government headquarters, carrying banners that read “No to the return of criminal Baathists,” and “No Baathists or Saddam.” In Najaf, hundreds of tribal chiefs, religious leaders and citizens were similarly opposed.

“We don’t agree on the return of those who destroyed Iraq, killed innocent people and stole the wealth of the country, and we demand the government and parliament stop them,” said Haidar Daabel, a 35-year-old teacher.

The judges decided on Wednesday to allow the previously barred candidates to stand, saying they would examine their files after the polls and would eliminate them if they were found to be Baathists.

A statement from Maliki’s office on Saturday said leaders had “agreed on the need to resolve the issue of those barred (from the elections) according to the law.” It was released after a meeting between Maliki, Supreme Court chief Madhat al-Hammud, parliament

speaker Samarrai, deputy speaker Khaled al-Attiya

and Deputy Prime Minister

Roz Nuri Shawis.

The officials also decided “to ask the magistrates to issue a ruling based on the evidence they were given and to accomplish their duty before campaigning starts” on February 12, the statement said.

The blacklist was compiled last month by an integrity and accountability committee, sparking tensions between the country’s Shiite majority and its Sunni Arab former elite.

It includes — both Sunni

and Shiite — suspected Baathists and alleged members of Saddam’s once deadly

Fedayeen (Men of Sacrifice) militia and Mukhabarat intelligence division.

Woman candidate shot dead in Mosul

Mosul: A woman planning to stand in Iraq’s March 7 general election was gunned down on Sunday in the restive northern city of Mosul, police said, just days before campaigning is officially due to start. Suha Abdul Jarallah, a candidate on the list of pro-Western former prime minister Iyad Allawi, was shot dead as she left a house in the Ras al-Jadda neighbourhood in central Mosul, 350 km north of Baghdad.

“She was getting out of a relatives’ home when she was shot dead by an unidentified gunman who then fled in a car carrying two other men,” the officer said. Intissar Allawi, a relative of Allawi, said Jarallah’s killing was politically motivated.

Campaigning for the delayed poll, the second parliamentary vote since the US-led ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein, is set to begin on February 12.