Iraq bans 500 from election. Okay, this is really bad (Iraqracy IV)

Iraq’s top election committee, known as IHEC, ratified the ban against 500 or so candidates in the upcoming election. The ban seems primarily aimed at popular Sunni politicians, but a number of Prime Minister Maliki’s candidates are on the list as well. It’s the exclusion of the Sunni candidates–especially Salih Mutlaq–that spells (more) trouble. From the NYT:

The absence of Mr. Mutlaq and other Sunni candidates could produce a situation that American officials here have long feared: another election reinforcing Sunni disenfranchisement, and just as the United States military begins its withdrawal of tens of thousands of combat troops.

What’s also disturbing is that Mutlaq is a guy who has been a “good” Sunni–despite his alleged ties to the insurgency, he’s bought into the political process from the beginning, one of the few who ran in 2005. This also comes at a time when the 80,000 Sons of Iraq, the Sunni militia group that allied with the U.S. to beat back Al Qaeda, is feeling a bit betrayed and humiliated, with over 30 warrants out for their top leadership, while a handful of others have been imprisoned.

Western officials, as the NYT notes, have been pushing back by saying the election bans are not legally binding. This may be the true, and the case now gets bumped up to federal court, where the banned candidates get a chance to appeal the decision. However, the rule of law has a spotty track record here, to put it mildly–just because it’s not legal doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

That being said, if the bans get lifted–if, in other words, the federal court overturns IHEC’s decision during the appeal–then it will be a small victory for Iraqracy. That is, it will demonstrate that the still persistent sectarian impulses of those in the government can be checked by legal means, rather than paramilitary means.

To me, this also indicates a willingness on some–and I say some not to be vague, but because it’s often unclear how prevalent these feelings are–in the Shiite dominated Iraqi government to play chicken with violence. An unwillingness to accept nothing less than total submission from the Sunnis, even if that means years more of insurgency and terror. There are those in the government who won’t be satisfied until almost all their opposition is wiped out, be it by questionable legal means(the bans, after all, have the blessing of two Iraqi government bodies, IHEC and the Accountability and Justice Commission) mass detention, or assassination.

Certainly, if the bans hold, it seems to be setting the ground for a renewed insurgency–albeit weakened–in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.

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About michaelhastings

Journalist
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One Response to Iraq bans 500 from election. Okay, this is really bad (Iraqracy IV)

  1. Mr. Hastings,

    You wrote:”To me, this also indicates a willingness on some…in the Shiite dominated Iraqi government to play chicken with violence. An unwillingness to accept nothing less than total submission from the Sunnis, even if that means years more of insurgency and terror.”

    Why would anyone want to disenfranchise the Sunni population of Iraq and face a renewed insurgency and who are they? Beyond teenage boys, no one “plays chicken” just for the fun of it. Rather than simply playing chicken, this seems rather to be a deliberate provocation, an encouragement for sectarian violence. This is taking a calculated risk to get a calculated gain.

    While it would be tempting to simply attribute this action to sectarian bad-blood, personal and sectarian ambition, or political corruption, which are no doubt factors, these have to be a minor considerations. Someone want to use the Iraqi government to accomplish some objective which, if the Sunni based political parties have any power over, cannot happen.

    Of equal or greater significance is probably the role of Iran. The government in Tehran has considerable influence with the government in Baghdad. If this purge of Sunni candidates is not the work some rogue clique of election officials then it is doubtful that the Iranian government was not unaware that it was coming and raised not objections. They can do the math as well as anyone else can and know what the risks are.

    There is something to be gained both in Tehran and in Baghdad that the Shia based governments in both places are willing to risk insurrection for. They already have control of the Iraqi, albeit a tenuous control but so it has to be something quite a bit more than that. When the prize is known it will be clear who is making the bets and taking risks to win it.

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