BAGHDAD — Iraq's electoral commission on Thursday barred 500 candidates from running in March's parliamentary election, including a prominent Sunni lawmaker, in a decision that is sure to deepen Iraq's sectarian divides.
Hamdia al-Hussaini, a commissioner on the Independent High Electoral Commission, said the commission made the decision after receiving the list from a parliament committee that vets candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party.
The decision to bar the candidates — most of whom are believed to be Sunni — potentially threatens the country's fragile security because it risks leaving Sunni voters feeling targeted and disenfranchised. The Sunni boycott in a January 2005 election is considered one of the key factors that deepened the insurgency.
The candidates have three days to appeal, Hussaini said.
Among those barred is prominent Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq, a strident critic of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Mutlaq has already said he would appeal any ruling against him.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, speaking before the decision was announced Thursday, described the effort to bar the candidates as intimidation.
"This is a process of severe intimidation and threats," Allawi said. "It's clear that they want to get rid of their opponents."
Allawi and Mutlaq are political allies in the Iraqi National Movement, a coalition challenging Maliki in the vote.
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