Campaigning formally began Friday for the Iraq parliamentary election in March, but the day was marred by news that two prominent candidates have been barred from participating in the vote, throwing the political process into disarray.
An appeals court in Iraq ruled Thursday that popular Sunni politicians Salah al-Mutlak and Dhafir al-Ani were ineligible for the March 7 poll. A shadowy body called the Accountability and Justice Commission, a successor to the controversial De-Baathification Commission, recently banned more than 500 candidates, including Mutlak and Ani, for their alleged ties to the late Saddam Hussein's now-outlawed Baath party.
It was widely seen as a move by the Shiite-dominated government to disqualify potential rivals ahead of the vote.
The United States and others tried to get the ban overturned. The matter was referred to a seven-judge appeals panel that ruled Thursday that the two key Sunni candidates, among others, would not be allowed to run for office.
Mutlak, who is a current member of parliament, said on Friday that the upcoming elections will not be legitimate.
"Of course they are not credible," Mutlak said. "If my opponents, my opposition, wish me out, what kind of election we have? What standard of election we have?"
Mutlak says that like millions of Iraqis, he was once a member of the Baath party, but he quit it more than 30 years ago.
In a speech to supporters, Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Shiite political party Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, took aim at Baathists.
"Iraqis can never allow the Baathists to return," Hakim said. "Never. Therefore, we stand and we'll face down the Saddamists with you, honorable people."
The fallout from the de-Baathification crisis is one of the main concerns of the Obama administration. It wants elections to go smoothly so that it can withdraw the more than 100,000 U.S. troops still serving in Iraq.
But in the streets of Baghdad, Iraqis say they are wary about the turmoil surrounding these elections.
Ahmad Ali Abid said he will refuse to vote.
"Salah al-Mutlak had nothing to do with the Baath party," Abid said. "It was only a pretext used by the government to exclude him because they knew he would achieve a landslide victory."
Basil Munim said he supports the ban because the Baath party damaged his country. But he still thinks politicians are not focusing on what is important.
"We want the new government to work for the interest of the people so we can see a change, because since the invasion we haven't seen any tangible progress," he said.
Another man, Musanih Jawad, said Iraqis are disillusioned.
"No one is telling the truth, and no one believes anyone anymore," Jawad said. "When I receive my ballot on election day, I won't choose any candidate. I will only write this: 'Have mercy on us.' "