BAGHDAD Almost all the candidates who contested their ban from Iraq's upcoming parliamentary election did not submit their cases properly and lost the chance to appeal, an Iraqi legal body said on Tuesday.
Nearly 500 candidates for Iraq's March 7 vote were disqualified from standing in the election by the Justice and Accountability Commission for alleged links to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party, sparking political uproar.
The commission, dominated by Shi'ite Muslim politicians, is tasked with rooting out Saddam loyalists, but Iraq's minority Sunnis feel the ban is a move to sideline them before the polls.
Many of the candidates have been replaced by their parties and some have had their ban lifted, leaving 177 cases in the appeals process. But only 37 were lodged correctly, leaving the rest disqualified, a commission spokesman said.
"Just 37 candidates presented their application to investigate their ban to (the election watchdog). The rest presented their applications to the appeals commission directly, which means they lost their opportunity to review their ban," said spokesman Khalid al-Shami.
Iraq has only just emerged from years of sectarian conflict since Saddam's fall in 2003, and Sunni participation in the vote is seen as crucial if Iraq's shaky stability is to hold.
Although the majority of those disqualified from the election were Shi'ites, a prominent Sunni lawmaker, Saleh al-Mutlaq, was included, as well as others trying to forge cross-sectarian election alliances.
Such groups are expected to do well and could chip away at the chances of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the powerful Shi'ite party the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
Both have Islamist roots but are now trying present themselves as nationalists to woo voters tired of sectarian politicking. Mutlaq is among those the commission said did not appeal correctly.
Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who heads an election list in which Mutlaq is general secretary, warned on Monday the candidate ban could re-ignite sectarian violence.
(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy; Writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Jon Boyle)