'A senior Shi'ite Muslim cleric on Friday defended a panel's decision to bar almost 500 candidates from Iraq's next election because of ties to Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath party, likening the party to the Nazis.
As a controversy threatening to reopen the wounds of Iraq's sectarian divide deepened, Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (ISCI) lawmaker Mohammad al-Haidari called for the ban to be enforced.
"The Baath party is worse than the Nazi party," Haidari said in a speech during Friday prayers. "If Baathists return to power, God forbid, their revenge will be even more ferocious."
The Justice and Accountability Commission, an independent body that aims in part to ensure the Baath party does not return to public life, said last week that 15 parties should be prevented from standing in the March 7 election.
The list included prominent Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq, generating widespread protests from once dominant Sunnis that Iraq's majority Shi'ites were trying to sideline them.'