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Iraq Secular Coalition Halts Poll Campaign


Backers of a coalition composed of Sunni Arabs and secularists demonstrate in Baghdad in support of lawmakers who were among candidates banned from running in Iraq's March national elections. (Ali Abbas / European Pressphoto Agency / February 13, 2010)

secular Iraqi political coalition has suspended its election campaign
over a ban on some of its candidates, as blasts hit political offices
across Baghdad.

The blasts late on Saturday, as well as the ongoing dispute over
banned election candidates, have heightened tensions during the run up
to Iraq's parliamentary vote, scheduled for March 7.

secular Iraqiya list, which is led by Ayad Allawi, a former prime
minister, suspended its campaign for three days while it attempts to
negotiate the return of dozens of its candidates.

Hours later a blast struck the political offices of Saleh al-Mutlaq,
a Sunni politician and co-founder of the Iraqiya list, who is among
those barred from the election.

bomb was thrown into the garden of a building used by Sunni scholars,
including poll candidates, in Mansour in west Baghdad, wounding two

A third blast damaged the headquarters of the United Iraq list in east Baghdad.

Another blast wounded two people when it struck the headquarters of
the Moderate Movement list in Karrada in east Baghdad and one other
person was hurt when a bomb struck a building used by an election list
led by Nehru Abdulkarim al-Keznazani.

Al-Qaeda threat

The blasts follow the release of an audio recording by Omar
al-Baghdadi, the purported leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, in which he
threatened to foil the elections.

In a statement posted on the internet on Friday, al-Baghdadi said:
"Sunni participation in this election will certainly lead to the
establishment of the principle that Sunnis in Iraq are a minority who
have to be ruled by the rejectionists."

The term "rejectionists" refers to the country's majority Shias, which al-Qaeda in Iraq sees as heretical.

In the recording he said this had prompted his group to attempt to "prevent these elections" using "primarily military means".

The recording could not be independently confirmed, but the US-based
SITE Intelligence Group that monitors such websites said the voice
seemed like that of the person previously identified as al-Baghdadi.

Election turmoil

Saturday's blasts feed into Iraq's election turmoil, already
strained by the back-and-forth over the ban on candidates accused of
ties to the outlawed Baath party of Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi
president ousted by the US-led invasion in 2003.

US officials are deeply concerned the ban could threaten Iraq's
political stability ahead of the withdrawal of American combat troops
by the end of August.

The ban, which blacklisted more than 500 candidates, among them both
Sunni and Shia, has most severely affected the Iraqiya list.

A spokesman for the group said it was unclear how many of the
coalition's candidates had been banned from running, but said election
officials initially put the number at 72.

Al-Mutlaq, who is among the banned candidates from Iraqiya, has been
strongly critical of Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shia prime minister.

A panel confirmed the ban on al-Mutlaq - who has acknowledged he was
a Baathist until the late 1970s when he quit the party - earlier this

All but 177 candidates have dropped out or been replaced by their parties.

The appeals panel has only cleared 26 names on the blacklist,
according to Faraj al-Haidari, the head of Iraq's election commission.

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