Saturday, January 16, 2010

Iraqi election committee bans 500 Sunni candidates

On Thursday Iraq's independent electoral commission banned about 500 candidates from running in the 7 March poll. More than 80% ofthyem appeared to be Sunni nominees, which led to proytsts and fears that .the Sunnis could withdraw from the elections altogether.
The ban comes almost seven years after the US introduced 'de-Ba'athification', and has been portrayed by some as a fresh push to rid Iraq of any remaining Saddam Hussein loyalists. Among those banned are prominent figures including the defence minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, and Saleh al-Mutlak (picture), who is the head of the National Dialogue Front.(11 seats).The commission's motive is that the banned nominees have ties to the banned Baath party.

The ban has angered Mutlaq’s supporters and his Sunni Arab and secular allies in the Iraqi National Movement, INM, list, who threatened to pull out of the race if he was not reinstated.
"If Mutlaq is banned, the whole list will boycott elections. We will also consider withdrawing from the entire political process in Iraq," said Haider al-Mulla, spokesman for the INM.
Sunni Arab participation in politics is deemed especially critical for Iraq’s stability and national reconciliation. A Sunni Arab boycott of the 2005 elections undermined the credibility of the government and was followed by widespread sectarian violence.
The INM is led by Mutlaq, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, who is considered Iraq’s most influential secular leader, and two of Iraq’s most powerful Sunni politicians, vice-president Tariq al-Hashemi and deputy prime minister Rafie al-Essawi.
The elction commission followed an advice by the Accountability and Justice Commission, an organisation that emerged from the once omnipotent De-Ba'athification Commission. The new body is directed by Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close aide to former deputy prime minister and one-time American ally, Ahmed Chalabi, who is again a candidate in the upcoming poll.ami defended the decision to ban Mutlak, claiming the government had been too weak to move against "Ba'athist remnants". It is believed that all 500 names of those banned were provided by Lami's commission.
The decision by the government’s Accountability and Justice Commission provoked protests in Ramadi, Fallujah and Garma, predominantly Sunni areas west of Baghdad. In Ramadi, 300 demonstrators chanted slogans accusing the commission of sectarian bias.
Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish MP, said that decision would harm efforts towards national reconciliation, seen as key to reducing instability in a country that was engulfed in sectarian bloodshed in 2006 and 2007.

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