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Iraqi elections: Why one candidate says he faces a US death threat

Abu Mahdi al Mohandas is one of more than 6,000 candidates on the ballot in the Iraqi elections on March 7. But the Shiite politician, now hiding in Iran, says the US considers him a terrorist and a weapons supplier to Iraq militia groups.

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Mohandas said he'd spent the 1980s and 1990s forging bonds with fellow Iraqi dissidents, visiting Kurds in northern Iraq and meeting Shiite and Sunni Muslim Arabs in Kuwait or Iran. Even his name is a remnant of his life in the underground: Al Mohandas is a pseudonym meaning "the engineer," reflecting his training as a mechanical engineer. His real name is Jamal Jaafir Mohammed Ali. His campaign posters use both names, but he prefers the nom de guerre.

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It remains to be seen whether voters will remember him either way. He hasn't attended parliament sessions in years, he's unwilling to risk capture to make stump speeches in Iraq and many Iraqis have grown wary of candidates who appear too cozy with Iran.

"Maybe the Iraqis will say, 'How will we elect someone who has not been in Iraq the last four years?' It's up to his supporters," said Ayad al Samarraie, Iraq's Sunni speaker of parliament, who said he met Mohandas on an official visit to Iran and told him it was probably safe for him to return. "I don't know if he is here how the Iraqi government will deal with a request by the Kuwaitis or the request by the Americans according to the charges they have."

Mohandas said he'd continue to work for Iraqi unity and sovereignty whether he was re-elected or not. He's also plugging away on a Ph.D. in international relations. The working title of his dissertation is "Regional Cooperation Among Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria," reflecting his dream of an oil-rich axis that would challenge U.S.-backed heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt for regional supremacy, a prospect that makes Washington nervous.

The United States should have a role in Iraq, he said, but for now it should focus on withdrawing all troops and repairing damaged relations on the way out.

"I hope and wish that the Americans will not — after all these years of occupation, casualties and high costs — leave Iraq with such a large reservoir of hatred from Iraqis, especially Shiites," Mohandas said. "They can help Iraqis. We can build a democratic political system that denounces violence and terrorism, and it would help to have great relations between Iraq and the United States."

(Strobel reported from Washington. McClatchy special correspondent Laith Hammoudi in Baghdad and Jonathan S. Landay in Washington contributed to this article.) 

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