Friday, February 12, 2010
Election campaign kicks off in Iraq
By BUSHRA JUHI The Associated Press BAGHDAD — Iraq officially kicked off the campaign season Friday, just hours after an appeals panel banned a number of candidates from running in March nationwide elections. Enlarge photo FILE- In this Feb. 7, 2007 file photo, a helicopter operated by Blackwater USA, a private security contractor, flies over central Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq has ordered about 250 former and current employees of Blackwater Worldwide to leave the country within seven days or face having their visas pulled. The order comes in the wake of a U.S. judge dismissing criminal charges against five Blackwater guards who were accused in the September 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic, File) Enlarge photo FILE - In this April 4, 2004 file photo, plainclothes contractors working for Blackwater USA take part in a firefight as Iraqi demonstrators loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr attempt to advance on a facility being defended by U.S. and Spanish soldiers in the Iraqi city of Najaf. Iraq has ordered about 250 former and current employees of Blackwater Worldwide to leave the country within seven days or face having their visas pulled. The order comes in the wake of a U.S. judge dismissing criminal charges against five Blackwater guards who were accused in the September 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad. (AP Photo/Gervasio Sanchez, File) Enlarge photo Campaign material depicting Iraq's Interior Minister, Jawad Bolani and his Unity Alliance of Iraq, for the upcoming election, are prepared at a printing shop in Baghdad, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim) Enlarge photo Campaign materials for the upcoming Iraqi election, are prepared at a printing shop in Baghdad, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim) More Nation & World stories » Mass. 1st-grade sex harassment case settled Clinton leaves hospital Schools close as South starts getting rare snow The nation's weather Disaster in Haiti Health Care Reform: News and resources Top news around the Web Campaign posters were plastered across Baghdad and other cities by early Friday morning, urging people to go to the polls. In Basra, one poster read: "Your city needs someone who knows what Basra needs." But in a move that was likely to raise tensions ahead of the March 7 parliamentary elections between the Shiite-led government and Sunnis who claim they are politically undermined, the appeals panel late Thursday only cleared 28 candidates out of the hundreds blacklisted over suspected ties to Saddam Hussein's regime. "The appeals were accepted either because of similarity of names or because there was not enough evidence against them," said Mudhafar al-Battat, a spokesman for the government-backed Accountability and Justice Committee — tasked with weeding out hardcore supporters of Saddam's outlawed Baath party. Al-Battat declined to identify those candidates barred from the election. Ali al-Lami, head of the committee that drafted the blacklist, said he had been informed by the appeals panel of its decision to bar Saleh al-Mutlaq and Dhafir al-Ani, the most prominent Sunni lawmakers. Al-Mutlaq, a fierce critic of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has acknowledged he was a Baathist until the late 1970s but quit the party. Al-Ani took the helm of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament after its moderate leader Harith al-Obeidi was assassinated in June 2009. A number of those candidates blacklisted were either replaced by their party or dropped out of the election altogether. Within hours of the decision, campaign posters in Baghdad were plastered across concrete blast walls that double as makeshift billboards — a practice that has become popular in Iraq in recent years. The start of campaigning had been postponed by more than a week to give the panel time to investigate the appeals of candidates on the blacklist. Many candidates, including al-Maliki, were forced to remove campaign posters earlier this week after they were put up ahead of the official campaign period.