Posted by Reidar Visser on January 14, 2010
The Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) has reportedly upheld the decision by the accountability and justice board to bar around 500 candidates, including Salih al-Mutlak, from participating in the 7 March elections, based on allegations of Baathist sympathies. The banned candidates can appeal to a board of seven judges that came into existence only three days ago, and whose names still appear to remain a secret.
It is hard to describe this development as anything than other than complete system failure in the new democracy in Iraq. Almost inevitably, the atmosphere of the elections will now turn into a repeat of December 2005, with escalating rhetoric that can easily turn sectarian. Parliament had the obvious option of marginalising Ali al-Lami, the Iran-connected leader of the former de-Baathification committee; instead they went for the more convenient solution of approving seven judges that now have the delicate and enormous task of dealing with hundreds of appeals in a matter of weeks. Why did they not ask Ali al-Lami to step down instead? Why did not the “independent” IHEC offer any resistance? What are the forces the Iraqi parliament and the IHEC are so afraid of? Mutlak has played a constructive role in Iraqi politics since 2005; the sudden allegation of dangerous Baathist revival plans simply smacks of panic on the part of his political opponents and involvement by forces outside Iraq.
As for the external environment some reports say UNAMI (and possibly also the Americans) pleaded with the IHEC not to follow through on the ban on Mutlak. The recent top-level Arab League visit to Baghdad is widely seen to have had the same objective. Quite inexplicably, the newly-arrived British ambassador to Baghdad chose the hearing on the Iraq War in London to warn against the possibility of a coup in Baghdad, which can only have added fire to the flames. But other than that, only Iran is known to be supportive of the ban. To add insult to injury, the Iranian foreign minister visited Baghdad just days before parliament decided to let the accountability and justice committee have its way.
The future now depends on how swiftly the newly constituted appeals court handles the cases. If the appeals drag on for many weeks then inevitably this issue will continue to dominate the agenda and the elections can easily become a replay of 2005, probably to the satisfaction of the ISCI/Chalabi/Sadrist alliance (Hakim has spent the past two days in Kurdistan talking about a renewed Shiite-Kurdish alliance). Interestingly, however, Salih al-Mutlak this morning actually expressed confidence that the appeals court would deal justly with any appeal by him.