A string of bombings on Sunday targeted political offices of those parties willing to contest the March 7 parliamentary elections, including secular Sunnis. The violence comes as one more worry in the course of Iraq’s most controversial election.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that over a hundred (145) candidates for parliament were disqualified from running by the Appellate Board for their alleged ties to Baathism. Over 500 had initially been excluded, out of more than 6000. Of those, many did not appeal or their appeals were hastily put together and failed. There were about 75 reversals early on, and another 26 appeals were accepted this week.
But Salih Mutlak, Sunni, secular head of the National Dialogue Bloc, who had sat in parliament and led a contingent of 11 MPs, is among the more important of the 145 whose appeals were rejected. There are no obvious connections between him and ‘Baathism’ today, unless by that term is just meant anyone with a secular, Arab nationalist outlook.
Mutlak had joined the Iraqi Nationalist Movement Coalition led by former appointed prime minister Iyad Allawi. As a result, the court’s decision gave the appearance of slamming Allawi and his secular, cross-sectarian party list in particular. The so-called Justice and Accountability Committee, which initiated the disqualifications, is the remnant of the ‘debaathification committee’ set up by the Neoconservatives in the Pentagon and their ally Ahmad Chalabi to ensure that Sunni Arab nationalists with sympathies for the Palestinians and a tendency to ally with the greater Sunni Arab world were excluded from office in the new Iraq, in favor of Shiites and Kurds. Chalabi is still around and on the JAC. He has sometimes been accused of being a double agent for Iran and of helping sucker the US into overthrowing Saddam Hussein for Iran’s benefit. That the leadership of the committee that disqualified Mutlak is so obviously fundamentalist Shiites or Shiite politicians close to Iran infuriates Iraq’s Sunni Arabs.
Allawi announced that his Iraqi Nationalist Movement was suspending its campaign for parliament on Sunday, in protest against Mutlak’s exclusion. I suggested a couple of weeks ago that the whole point of the disqualifications may well have been to ensure that Allawi had no opportunity to form a government and return as prime minister (in the Iraqi constitution, the single largest party or coalition gets the first shot at forming a government,and with the Shiites splintered and running against one another in this election, such an opportunity could not be ruled out for Allawi had there been no disqualifications). But it should also be said that voting patterns in recent years did not favor a secular, cross-sectarian coalition, and my own guess is that it would not have done particularly well anyway. But Sunni Arabs, especially the majority who are secular-minded, will feel left out of national politics as a result of these decisions by the Shiite majority. Or perhaps the religious Sunnis will be incensed by this, too– VP Tariq al-Hashimi, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party (the Iraqi version of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood), is also a member of Allawi’s coalition. His fellow IIP party member, Dhafir al-Ani, was among those disqualified (how a Sunni revivalist is a Baathist is hard to fathom).
Allawi’s group is still appealing to the Federal Supreme Court or the Iraqi Parliament to intervene to stop the disqualifications.
The Iraqi Nationalist Movement also issued a press release to its followers in Salahuddin, Diyala and Nasiriya Provinces, saying that the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had launched a wave of arrests of political rivals, especially targeting members of the Iraqiya list, on a scale that threatens the integrity of the elections. They said al-Maliki wants to return Iraq to one-party rule (that of his Islamic Mission Party or the Da’wa).
Their plea that the arbitrary arrests cease and those incarcrated be released echoes the language of the political opposition in Iran (ironically, this borrowing of such language may be deliberate, since Iraqi Nationalist Movement supporters typically despise the theocratic Khamenei regime in Iran).
Sunni Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Iyad al-Samarra’i, admitted that those who had been disqualified had openly criticized paragraph 63 of the Iraqi constitution, which bans Baathists from any public role and makes the party illegal. But he said that members of parliament are granted by the same constitution the right to speak their minds on such issues, and should not be punished, though he disagrees with what they said (apparently, he had better).
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports in Arabic that Salih Mutlak is now expressing skepticism that the March 7 parliamentary elections will be aboveboard. He said he is disturbed by the behavior of the parties closely linked to Iran, hinting that he was excluded from running at the behest of Tehran.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people demonstrated in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala against any return of the Baath Party, and protesting the willingness of authorities to entertain appeals from those disqualified. They said that they had had family members jailed as prisoners of conscience under the Baath Party. The disqualifications appear to have been enormously popular in the Shiite south.
Liz Sly reports that some Iraqi Shiites believe that al-Maliki and others are playing the Baath card cynically, as a way of scaring Shiites into continuing to vote for the religious parties that are most fiercely anti-Baathist.
The USG Open Source Center summarizes: "Al-Sabah carries on page 5 a 200-word report citing Shaykh Abd-al-Mahdi al-Karbala’i, during the Friday Sermon in the Karbala Governorate, as warning against the phenomenon of buying votes of the citizens in the next legislative elections, and affirming that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called on Muslims to abandon sectarianism."
Many Iraqis fear that the Shiite National Iraqi Coalition will steal the election by buying votes,and a parliamentary leader of the coalition, Humam al-Hammudi, had to deny (al-Istiqamah, Feb. 11) rumors that party (which includes the pro-Iran Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) is already measuring curtains for the prime minister’s mansion.
Certainly, the chances for another big Shiite victory on March 7 have improved, as the Sunnis and secularists are talking about suspended campaigns and even boycotts.