Iraq's election commissioners resign weeks before polls

Members of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) choose ballot numbers for the blocs competing in April's elections (29 January 2014) It is not clear if preparations for April's legislative elections will be affected

The board of Iraq's election commission has resigned in protest at what it says is political and judicial interference ahead of April legislative elections.

The joint decision was made to preserve the independence and impartiality of the commission, a statement said.

It had faced huge pressure as a result of a dispute over the interpretation of the electoral law, it added.

A clause approved last year allows for the exclusion of candidates considered not "of good reputation".

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is seeking a third term, has been accused of using the law to prevent his political enemies from standing.

'Radical solution needed'

The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) was facing huge pressure stemming from the conflict between parliament and the judiciary over the decisions issued by both sides relating to Clause 3 of Article 8 of the Electoral Law, a statement published on its website said.

Each side believed that the IHEC was mandated to implement their decisions, despite the fact that they were contradictory, it added.

Poster for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law bloc in Baghdad (25 March 2014) Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is hoping to win a third term in office with his State of Law bloc

"Since the IHEC does not want to be party to any conflict, and in order to escape this vicious cycle, the members of the board of commissioners decided to submit their resignations to the chairman en masse and are awaiting his approval if such pressure continues and no radical solution is reached to settle this issue in a bid to maintain the organisation's independence," the statement said.

An aide to IHEC Chairman Sarbat Rashid told the AFP news agency that he supported the move.

Sources said the commissioners had been particularly frustrated by the disqualification of dozens of candidates by a judicial panel because they were subjects of arrest warrants.

Those affected - including former Finance Minister Rafa al-Issawi and several other MPs who oppose Mr Maliki - have no obvious way to appeal.

Parliament has meanwhile reportedly informed the IHEC that it must not bar any candidates unless they have criminal convictions.

Analysts say the forthcoming election has been a factor in the rising sectarian violence in Iraq in recent months, with Mr Maliki and other Shia political leaders determined to be seen to be taking a hard line against militancy rather than reach out to the Sunni Arab minority.

More than 400 people have been killed in violent attacks across the country so far this month, according to AFP, including 19 on Tuesday.

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