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Sunni group to boycott Iraq polls

A popular Sunni party announced that it will boycott national elections next month, raising the prospect that some Sunnis will be shut out of a Shiite-led government.

world Updated: Feb 22, 2010 09:28 IST

A popular Sunni party announced on Saturday that it will boycott national elections next month, raising the prospect that some Sunnis will be shut out of a Shiite-led government.

The National Dialogue Front stopped short of urging supporters not to vote. But the party’s decision to pull out of the March 7 election could cement views here that Shiite religious parties rigged the vote against secular and Sunni candidates and raises fears that the elections will be deemed illegitimate.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, who leads the party, was among about 500 candidates disqualified from the election because of their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. A seven-judge panel signed off on most of the disqualifications. But before the appeals process, all but 171 were replaced by their parties or withdrew. Only 25 prevailed upon appeal.

“It’s a bad environment for the election,” said Haider al-Mullah, a spokesman for the National Dialogue Front, which has 11 seats in parliament. “They are preventing good leaders like al-Mutlaq from running.”

“The people feel there will be no big changes in the next election,” said Nada Ibrahim, a member of Mutlaq’s front. “If there is no big change for the Iraqis, what is the aim of the elections?”

Sunni Arabs boycotted the 2005 election because of the US occupation. Their decision contributed to the rise of an insurgency and a civil war fought along sectarian lines.

“If the new Iraq can’t include people like Saleh al-Mutlaq, what hope do you have of stopping the violence?” said a senior Western official.

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