Arab News - 06 February, 2010
The delay to campaigning for Iraq’s general election scheduled for March 7 is highly dangerous. It follows anger in the Shiite-led government at the overturning of a ban on 511 candidates, largely Sunnis, because they are alleged to have connections with the Baath party of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Originally disqualified from standing last month by a shadowy body called the Integrity and Accountability Committee (IAC), the ban was thrown out on a majority verdict handed down by seven judges acting for the Electoral Commission.
In protesting the decision, senior Iraqi politicians, including Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki have accused Washington of strong-arming the judges and interfering in internal Iraqi affairs. US diplomats certainly made no secret of their disapproval of the blacklist nor of their subsequent approval when the ban was overturned. In doing so Washington demonstrated further crassness in its dealings with Iraq.
The stark truth is that if Iraq is to function as a pluralist, multiparty democracy, it is for the voters to choose the candidates, not some panel whose legitimacy does not appear to have been endorsed by the Parliament. Clearly candidates convicted of any crimes should be barred but that is supposed to be a standard procedure for this in all democracies. Beyond that limitation it is for the voters to decide who will represent them. There are two dangers in the current row. The first is that any communities whose candidates are struck off the electoral list will very understandably lose faith in the political process and the chances of genuine dialogue to find a way forward for all Iraqis, regardless of their background. Without a political voice, people could take to the streets or worse turn once again to the men of violence, the ultimate and most negative protest.
Meanwhile as Iraqi politicians once again row bitterly over fundamental issues, the terrorists are taking advantage of the vacuum that is being created. The cynical and brutal bombings of Shiite pilgrims in recent days are designed to once again stir up intercommunal hatred and foster a return of the dreaded death squads. It was precisely this horror that the principle of pluralist politics was designed to stop.
Had Washington kept its nose out of Iraqi affairs, the decision of the seven judges might well have been accepted. But the Americans could not resist having their say, thus allowing those who for their own very good political reasons deplore the judges’ decision, to label them as US stooges. Nevertheless, even though the American occupying authorities have been stunningly inept, their behavior should not be used as an excuse to restore the candidate blacklist. The end of the occupation is in sight. Slowly but surely the Iraqis are checking the terrorists. This has been achieved by an albeit fragile unity of purpose which accepts that the country must be governed for the benefit of all Iraqis. Banning any political candidates, whatever their affiliation, is a deeply retrograde step, pointing back to the old US invasion-created instability.