AP Exclusive: Iraqi PM defends ban of candidates with alleged Baathist ties ahead of election

By Rebecca Santana, AP
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Iraqi PM defends ban of candidates before vote

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s prime minister on Sunday defended a decision to ban hundreds of candidates from the upcoming election, saying the decision was not intended to target the country’s minority Sunni population.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is up for re-election in next Sunday’s parliamentary vote, said the decision was made because the candidates were “blatantly propagating Baath Party ideas.”

“It’s not true that it targeted Sunnis,” said al-Maliki, adding that the decision actually affected more Shiites than Sunnis. “The decision will not at all affect the Sunni turnout for the election. The decision was made because some of those were blatantly propagating Baath Party ideas.”

The decision to keep hundreds of candidates from the election, including a prominent Sunni lawmaker, for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s ruling party has dominated Iraq’s political debate for weeks and reflects the deep sectarian differences that still divide the country.

Many in the country’s Sunni minority, which dominated the Baath Party leadership, were outraged by the decision, which they felt unjustly targeted Sunni political figures in an attempt to sideline them from the political process.

The Shiite prime minister gained popularity as a leader who was able to bring relative security and stability to this nation shattered by vicious sectarian fighting, in partnership with U.S. forces. The winner of next Sunday’s vote will preside over a drawdown of U.S. forces that will see all combat troops leave Iraq by the end of August and all American forces go home by 2011.

When asked whether he thought if he were to be prime minister again that he would ask for any U.S. forces to remain after 2011, al-Maliki said he was not afraid to ask for troops if needed but that he thought it would not be necessary.

“In my estimation as prime minister and with my knowledge of the capability of the Iraqi army and police, I think we are not in need of them, God Willing,” he said.

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