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Iraq election: a 'birther' movement and comparisons to Nazi Germany

Ahead of Iraq election results due today, the main challenger to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – Ayad Allawi – has been criticized for his mother's Lebanese citizenship and his ties to the CIA, with some comparing an Allawi victory to the Nazi gains in 1930s Germany.

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"There are some figures on [Allawi's] slate that are not acceptable. There are still characters who glorify the former regime or do not accept the current situation," said Jalaladin al Sagheer, a well known Shiite cleric who ran, and lost, as part of the main Shiite alliance. "We have good relations with Allawi and we appreciate his efforts against the former regime, but we want a person who's acceptable by all sides."

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Allawi's supporters – chief among them Sunnis who've grown tired of being on the sidelines and are counting on him to represent their interests – view his electoral success as a pushback against Shiite religious parties with close ties to neighboring Iran. Allawi's detractors, especially Shiite leaders who spent years trying to topple Saddam, are riling up their followers by telling them bluntly that an Allawi win is akin to a renaissance of the Baath Party.

Sectarian propaganda: Allawi's success likened to 1930s Nazi win

Video-sharing portals, social-networking sites, and the Arabic-language press are full of sectarian-laced propaganda from both camps. Religious factions are beseeching Maliki to rejoin his former Shiite allies and blame him for splitting the Shiite vote, paving the way for Allawi's strong showing.

An online article that likens Allawi's success at the polls to the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany is getting wide circulation on Iraqi blogs. The author, Taqi Jassim Sadiq, warns that an Allawi win would mean renewed Arab persecution of the Kurdish minority, a possible military coup, and a rolling back of so-called "de-Baathification laws," which identify and remove former Baath Party members from holding state jobs.

Even Sheikh Khaled al Mullah, a Sunni cleric from the predominantly Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, joined in the calls for Shiite parties to unite as a front against Allawi's secular, mixed-sect ticket, "lest the Baathists enter through the window after they were expelled through the door."

Predictably, Allawi's Sunni patrons in the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia, are thrilled with the Iraqiya coalition's strong showing, hoping the bloc can stay together and act as a foil against archrival Iran's designs on the region. Hussein al Shabakshi, a Saudi columnist, dismissed the smear campaign against Allawi as evidence that Maliki's just a sore loser now in desperation mode.

"All Maliki could do in facing Ayad Allawi and his slate is to accuse them of being Baathist and of harboring old-fashioned Baathist ideologies, thus bringing out the scarecrow of the former regime to frighten people," Shabakshi wrote in the Saudi-funded Sharq al Awsat newspaper.

Allawi's Sunni supporters in provinces to the north and west of Baghdad are willing to forgive Allawi for a lot – including his longtime ties to the CIA.

"I prefer those who work for Americans to those who work for Iranians," said Ali Yassa, 41, a poet who owns a grocery store in the northern city of Baquba.

(McClatchy special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Mohammed al Dulaimy contributed to this article.)

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