Hundreds of protesters denounced Iraqis still loyal to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party on Sunday as tensions soared over the decision to blacklist suspected Baathists from next month's election.

Protesters chanted and carried signs that said, "No, No to Baath Party!" and "The return of the Baath Party is a return to mass graves."

Shiite officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political allies, are trying to purge all high-level posts of Iraqis with ties to the Baath party, which was outlawed in Iraq in 2003.

A decision to ban about 450 candidates from March 7 parliamentary elections because of suspected ties to Saddam's regime has threatened to reopen wounds between once-dominant Sunnis and the Shiite majority.

The ban is widely seen as targeting Sunnis, even though Shiites are also on the blacklist.

Some Sunni leaders have threatened to boycott the election if the purge stands. That, in turn, risks throwing the election into chaos and would raise questions about its credibility.

Parliament met briefly Sunday but did not take action on the ban, which was suspended by an appeals court. Lawmakers are expected to meet again Monday as a panel of judges combs through the list.

Ali Al-Lami, executive director of a vetting panel that initially purged suspected Baathists from the ballot said that a judicial appeals court ruled Sunday to uphold the ban in 26 cases so far. None of the cases were of high profile candidates.

Sunnis, who led the country under Saddam, boycotted a critical first nationwide vote in January 2005, resulting in a Shiite-dominated government. Resentment over that loss contributed to the country's deadly insurgency.