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.