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Iraq appeals panel reverses ruling on banned candidates

[JURIST] The Iraqi appeals panel that had ruled last week that 500 mostly Sunni politicians accused of ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [BBC backgrounder] could stand in the coming elections reversed its decision Sunday. In its ruling [Reuters report], which was handed down as hundreds protested in Baghdad, the court stated that it was mistaken in thinking it had to rule on all 500 candidates, and would engage in a candidate-by-candidate review of the 177 politicians that had appealed to the court unless a political solution was reached. Official campaigning before the March 7 polls was scheduled to start Sunday, but was postponed [BBC report] last week by the Iraqi Independent High Election Commission [official website] until Friday in order to allow more time to resolve the crisis. Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [official profile, in Arabic; BBC profile] was forced to reschedule [Al Jazeera report] an emergency parliamentary meeting to address the election standoff when only 75 of Iraq's 275 parliamentarians arrived, denying him a quorum. Most of the banned candidates are from parties running against [NYT report] al-Maliki's ruling coalition, including those from a party led by a former Shi'ite prime minister, which has been seen as the most significant threat to al-Maliki's coalition.

Last week's ruling overturned a decision by the Justice and Accountability Commission disqualifying more than 500 mostly Sunni politicians for suspected links to the outlawed Baath Party. The appeals panel held [WSJ report] that the candidates could stand in the coming elections, but would have to be cleared of the allegations against them before taking office. This compromise is said to closely model a solution proposed by US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile]. The decision was met with widespread criticism by the Shi'ite-led government. On Thursday, a spokesperson for Iraq's Shi'ite government, Ali Al-Dabbagh [official website, in Arabic], said that the decision was illegal and unconstitutional [JURIST report]. US officials have been concerned over the election dispute [BBC report] because it is seen as a threat to the credibility of the elections, which are supposed to be a milestone in Iraq's postwar development and a major step toward the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from the country.

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