Iraq in danger of new civil war

Iraq’s US-sponsored post-war regime shed its democratic pretentions by banning more than 500 candidates belonging to 15 political entities from standing in the country’s March 7 parliamentary poll. If the leader of a party is banned, its entire slate is barred. The banning order has been endorsed by Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, ensuring that most of the names on the list will be excluded from the race. Among the political figures barred from standing are Defence Minister Abdel Qadr Jassem Obaidi, Deputy Prime Minister Rafi Issawi, and Saleh  Mutlaq, head of the National Dialogue Front. All are secular Sunnis. Maliki’s spokesman Ali Dabbagh, a Shia, was reportedly on the list but there is great confusion since names on the list have been leaked not formally announced.

There is no legal basis for such action in the country’s 2005 constitution or in the amendments to the election law enacted last fall. Most of the banned candidates and parties were set to attract the votes of Sunnis, secularists and disaffected Shias.
Reidar Visser, an expert on Iraq, described this development as a “complete system failure in the new democracy in Iraq”. A seven-judge appeal panel is supposed to review the list, but three judges may be disqualified because they served under the ousted Baath party regime.

Iranian practice
While the body charged with purging members of the Baath was responsible for drawing up the list, the banning order issued by the election commission appears to be based on the  Iranian practice of excluding the opposition from public office.
Ahmad Chalabi and Ali Lami, prime movers of the de-Baath-ification panel, have a personal interest in removing rivals.

They are both standing for election. They are on the list put forward by the Shia Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC). Chalabi, once the darling of the Bush administration, and Lami, suspected of involvement in a 2008 militia attack that killed two US troops, enjoy close relations with Tehran. It is significant that the ban on Mutlaq was revealed the day after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki visited Baghdad. Iran, made paranoid by continuing protests over its own controversial presidential election, is keen to ensure that there is no challenge to its Iraqi allies, the Shia religious and Kurdish separatist parties currently ruling Iraq.

An Iraqi source said the aim of the ban is to restrict the field to parties rooted in religion.
The key Shia sectarian factions, Maliki's Dawa, SIIC, and the movement loyal to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr, are prepared to permit the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party to function because “it is a religious party, has no credibility and will lose votes”.

He said the ban is a ‘pre-emptive strike’ designed to ‘finish off’ secular nationalists. The sectarian parties, secessionist Kurds and Iran ‘fear their resurgence’, particularly in Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, and the north and west where nationalists defeated Kurdish and Shia candidates in last year’s provincial polls.

Secularism
Last October, Mutlaq’s National Dialogue Front formed an electoral bloc with another secular party, al-Iraqiya List, headed by interim premier Ayad Allawi, a Shia who had recruited two prominent Sunnis, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and Vice Premier Issawi. The bloc denounces Kurdish claims to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs.

This bloc had been expected to secure more seats than the Kurdish bloc and become the king maker between the feuding Shia blocs, Maliki’s ‘State of Law’ coalition and the United Iraqi Alliance formed by SCIRI and the Sadrists.

Joost Hilterman, an Iraq specialist at the International Crisis Group, observed that the ban “is a terrible move... The elections are for Sunnis the make-or-break event for their participation in the state of Iraq”.

Raed Jarrar, a political analyst, said the ban “will have catastrophic results” because it will force those excluded from politics to fight “outside the system”.
He warned that the election has the “potential to ignite a new civil conflict.” This would be disastrous, he said, because Iraq does not have the institutions capable of surviving fresh civil warfare. He pointed out that its security forces are divided by sectarian and ethnic loyalties.

The real problem is that the Shia and Kurdish politicians and parties empowered by the US are loyal only to themselves  and tied to Iran.

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