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Iraq's President Orders Probe of Candidate Ban

Iraq's president has ordered an investigation into a decision to ban more than 500 candidates from elections set for March. The probe follows complaints their exclusion could undermine the legitimacy of the vote.

President Jalal Talabani says a high-level commission will look into a decision by a parliamentary committee to ban candidates with ties to the Ba'ath party.

Mr. Talabani says he does not oppose the participation of Ba'ath members who are not from what he called the Saddam Hussein wing of the party.

The distinction appears to be a way around the still-confounding issue of who is a Ba'athist. Under former leader Saddam Hussein, membership in the near-monolithic party was wide-spread, even among those who opposed him.

The committee that decided to ban candidates is the successor to the original, post-U.S. invasion de-Ba'athification panel. Critics accuse it of using the term Ba'athist to disenfranchise Sunnis, who made up the bulk of Saddam's government.

Mr. Talabani, a Kurd who leads the three-person presidential council, says he and his colleagues will discuss the matter.

In particular, he says, the council will look into whether the committee itself is legal.

Sectarian, ethnic and other issues have already pushed the election beyond the deadline called for in Iraq's constitution. The United States is eager to have it go forward, as it is tying its withdrawal of troops from the country in part to a successful vote.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has been in contact with Iraqi leaders in recent days. Mr. Talabani said he is expected to visit the country soon.