A ban on election candidates accused of links with Saddam Hussein’s Baath party threatens to drag Iraq into civil war, a former prime minister and head of a group seen as a strong contender in the polls said Feb. 8. Iyad Allawi, who leads the Iraqiya list into the March 7 vote, said the ban could trigger a resurgence in sectarian attacks, reversing a fall in violence in the last two years that has allowed U.S. forces to eye a 2011 withdrawal date and Iraq to sign major oil deals. The ban on some 500 candidates with alleged ties to Saddam’s outlawed Sunni Muslim-led Baath party was imposed last month by a commission led by Shi’ite politicians, causing uproar in country only just emerging from years of sectarian bloodshed in which tens of thousands died. “This will put Iraq in the box of sectarianism and the route to civil war,” Allawi said in an interview. “If the ban stays as is, haphazardly, with a blanket covering of people … this will lead to severe sectarian tensions.” (Reuters)

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