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Iraqi panel wants to bar 4 elected to parliament

BAGHDAD - A committee that vets candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein's regime is recommending that four people elected to parliament from the winning list of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi be disqualified, an official on the committee said yesterday.

The challenge risks deepening Iraq's sectarian tensions.

If the courts accept the recommendation, it could alter the outcome of the March 7 vote in which Allawi's secular Shia-Sunni coalition beat a bloc led by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by just two seats.

That could fuel feelings of disenfranchisement by the minority Sunnis, many of whom backed Allawi's list and believe the vetting committee is trying to rob them of a victory and tilt the election outcome back to the Shia-led majority.

The official said the Justice and Accountability Committee found the four politicians have ties to Saddam's Baath Party. He said the committee was also pushing for the disqualification of two other winners, one from al-Maliki's list and a Kurdish candidate. He would not identify them by name.

Allawi's Iraqiya bloc rejected the step. "The decisions of the Accountability and Justice Committee are not legal," said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a winning Iraqiya candidate. "Those six winning candidates have the approval of [the election commission] and this decision is a political one, not a legal one."

Al-Mutlaq is the brother of another prominent Sunni, Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of about 450 candidates barred before the voting. Those barred included Shias, but Sunnis feel the panel is primarily trying to block them from regaining a political voice.

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