Preparations for elections in Iraq next month have been thrown into disarray by a row over a court ruling allowing hundreds of candidates to stand, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The candidates were banned because they are affiliated with Saddam Hussein’s Baath party which ruled the country before the invasion in 2003.
The Iraqi government has condemned the court’s decision and is set to hold an emergency debate on Sunday.
Campaigning is due to start on the same day for the 7 March poll.
A government spokesman said the court decision was “illegal and unconstitutional”.
The election is regarded as a crucial test for Iraq’s national reconciliation process ahead of a planned US military withdrawal.
On Wednesday, the appeals panel ruling overturned a ban on hundreds of politicians from running for public office.
Baathist is a form of secular Arab nationalism and was the ideology espoused by Saddam Hussein when he came to power.
The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says although the list of names straddles the sectarian divide, Sunni groups have felt most targeted by the exclusions, and their protests have been loudest.
Although a minority, Sunni Muslims were dominant under Saddam Hussein’s rule but have since complained of being marginalised under the post-Saddam Shia-led government. The ruling would allow the candidates to stand for election, and be subject to investigation only after the polls.
No surprise, US officials had voiced concerns about the ban, fearing that it could inflame sectarian tensions and undermine confidence in the electoral process.
The Iraq war was promoted by Republicans and the Democratic Leadership Council, which has primarily morphed into the New Democrat Coalition, which backed an extra 50,000 troops for Afghanistan to be authorized by the President last year.