Saleh al-Mutlaq has never shied from controversy, sometimes relishing his plunge into the turbulence of Iraqi politics. But even Mr. Mutlaq, a disheveled former agronomist, seems taken aback at landing square center in a growing dispute that threatens to unleash turmoil ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March.
A government commission moved this month to bar his candidacy, on grounds that he was promoting the Baath Party of former President Saddam Hussein. With the decision, Mr. Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician, has emerged as an emblem of a process widely viewed as opaque and capricious. To supporters, he is a victim. To critics, he is a relic. For both, his future could say something about Iraq’s fate. [continued…]
As the disqualification of some 500 leading Iraqi politicians on the grounds of alleged ties to the Baath Party is continuing to roil Iraqi politics, Arab papers today report that both U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and Vice President Joseph Biden have been intervening with Iraqi officials in an attempt to find a way to walk back the disastrous decision — perhaps by postponing the implementation of the committee’s decisions until after the election. The commission in turn is complaining about foreign interference, while Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki broke his silence by calling to “not politicize” the process (a bit late for that, no?) and some Iraqi outlets are screaming about alleged American threats. There is still a chance that the appeals process could provide an exit strategy, but this doesn’t seem hugely likely at this point; the final list of those disqualified is set to be released tomorrow.
Iraqi politicians, especially those associated with Mutlak’s bloc such as Ayad Allawi and Tareq al-Hashemi, have been loudly complaining about alleged conflict of interest and abuse of power behind the moves. The indefatigable Norwegian researcher Reider Visser deserves credit for unearthing that Ali Faysal al-Lami, who spent about a year in a U.S.-run prison on charges of complicity with attacks by Shia militias and runs the Parliamentary committee responsible for the disqualifications, is actually standing for election on Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress list. Visser, like a number of Iraqi analysts, argue that they are using their official positions to stack the deck in their own favor: “It is they who effectively control the vetting process for the entire elections process. They enjoy full support in this from Iran; meanwhile their leaders are being feted in Washington, where Adil Abd al-Mahdi has just been visiting.” The committee’s defenders claim that it is simply enforcing the law. Finally, the editor of the Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat complains that Iran’s allies in Iraq are using their control of the mechanisms of Iraqi democracy to seize power for themselves on behalf of Iran — and the similarity between the DeBaath “vetting” of candidates and Iran’s Guardians Council’s vettting of candidates has been noted. [continued…]