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Iraqi Appeals Court Confirms Ban of Dozens of Candidates as Political Tension Mounts

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, whose influential political bloc in parliament was expected to win major support in upcoming March elections, says that he is "suspending his campaign," in the wake of the decision to bar several top Sunni political figures for alleged ties to the Ba'ath Party of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

An Iraqi appeals court's final verdict bars several candidates from running, according to the deputy head of the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, Hamdiya al Husseini. She says that the appeals court has issued its final ruling, which includes a ban on 145 candidates and a decision to permit 26 others who appealed an earlier decision to run.

The Iraqiya coalition of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Saturday the ban creates a poor climate for the political process. He announced that his political bloc would suspend campaigning for three days to protest.

His spokeswoman, Mayssun al Damalduji made the announcement. She says that (Allawi's party) is calling for an urgent meeting of parliament to discuss the legality of the parliamentary committee originally responsible for banning candidates in the coming election. She adds that (Mr. Allawi's) "Iraqiya" political bloc is suspending campaigning immediately until meetings can be held to clarify the situation.

Campaigning officially began Friday as the first official campaign posters were plastered across Baghdad.

Two top Sunni political leaders, Saleh al Mutlak and Dhaver al-Ani were among the disqualified candidates.

Mutlak has complained that the decision to ban candidates for alleged ties to the Ba'ath Party of deposed leader Saddam Hussein was the result of pressure from Iran.

Dhaver al-Ani, meanwhile, told the Arab daily Asharqalawsat that he was "proud to be 'de-ba'athified' at the demand of (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad." Al Ani said he feared the security situation in Iraq would probably deteriorate because of the decision. He says that (our party) is suspending its political campaign and calling for an urgent meeting of the presidential council, as well as discussions and negotiations of top political parties to put a stop to the expected deterioration of the political and security situations.

Confirmation of the the appeals court verdict banning dozens of political candidates angered many politicians. Several have urged that the decision to ban the candidates be appealed to the Arab League. Haydar al Mulla, an ally of former prime minister Allawi, even told al Arabiya TV that the ban must be "appealed directly to the UN."