Iraqi court dismisses de-Baathification cases
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi appeals court on Monday rejected the disqualification of nine winning candidates from a March 7 election, removing another hurdle to the certification of the ballot results more than two months after the vote.
The decision effectively upholds a final vote tally that gave the Sunni-backed cross-sectarian alliance of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi a two-seat lead. His chances of forming a government are slim because of a tie-up between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's group and another Shi'ite-led coalition.
A three-judge panel accepted appeals from the nine candidates, eight of whom ran for Allawi's Iraqiya, against their disqualification by a special panel for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's banned Baath party, party officials said.
"This is victory for the Iraqi judicial system and this is the right step that should have been taken from the beginning," said Maysoon al-Damluji, a spokeswoman for Iraqiya.
"We warned from the beginning against any attempt to marginalize the Iraqiya list under the pretext of de-Baathification," she said.
The move angered some on the special panel tasked with ensuring loyalists of ousted dictator Saddam don't return to power seven years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Ali al-Lami of the Justice and Accountability Commission said the court apparently accepted the appeals because it viewed the candidate bans as politically motivated.
"The commission will not keep silent but I'm not going to take this personally," Lami said. He said the panel would publish the evidence it had on the nine candidates this week to prove its case against them.
Efforts by Lami's panel to ban candidates accused of Baathist ties became highly controversial in the run-up and aftermath of the election. Lami and other leaders of the panel are Shi'ites seen as close to Tehran, and Iraqi Sunnis felt unfairly targeted by the disqualifications.
Sunni anger at the commission's "de-Baathification" efforts threatened to fuel sectarian violence just when Iraq is emerging from the worst of the bloodshed between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis triggered by the invasion.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the violence.
No one won the election outright and the delay in certifying the results raised fears of a slide back into broader fighting.
Sunnis who backed Allawi may also react angrily when the united Shi'ite factions deprive him of a chance to form a government, despite having come first.
The certification of the election results will allow negotiations to form a coalition government to begin in earnest.
Maliki, who is seeking a second term as prime minister, has a head start after his State of Law coalition agreed to merge in parliament with the Shi'ite-led Iraqi National Alliance.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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