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Call to Exclude Top Iraqi Sunni Leader from March Polls Provokes Row


The ruling to exclude Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlak from the election, issued by parliament's Accountability and Justice Committee, could derail weeks of patient effort to insure the partication of all parties in the polling.

A group of top Iraqi Sunni-Arab political leaders are protesting the preliminary decision by an Iraqi parliamentary committee to exclude Sunni leader Salah al-Mutlak from participating in March parliamentary elections. More than a dozen political parties could also be excluded from the elections for alleged ties to former leader Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.

A political row between Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs is brewing in Iraq just weeks before anticipated parliamentary elections in March. The ruling to exclude Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlak from the election, issued by parliament's Accountability and Justice Committee, could derail weeks of patient effort to insure the partication of all parties in the polling.

Saturday, a coalition of top, mostly Sunni, Iraqi political leaders, including Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and al-Mutlak denounced the committee's ruling. Coalition spokesman Haidar al-Mulla insists the ruling is legally null and void:

Our leaders, he says, declare that they don't recognize the legality of the doings of [this committee], that we won't cooperate with [it], and that we affirm that democracy is the only choice for the Iraqi people. What this committee has proposed, he argues, will damage the political and electoral processes, and our group is demanding that the work of this committee be frozen, because it harms national reconciliation and the democratic process.

The final decision to ban al-Mutlak and more than a dozen other Iraqi political parties from the March election for alleged relations with the banned Baath party, does not, however, belong to parliament's Justice and Accountability committee, but to Iraq's High Electoral Commission.

Judge Qassim al-Aboudi of the High Electoral Commission says that he still has not received the final report of the Justice and Accountability committee, once charged with purging the Baath Party from all walks of life.

The committee's chairman, Falah Shansal, is allied to pro-Iranian cleric Moqtada Sadr. Several political leaders accuse him of bowing to the wishes of Iran in the call to ban al-Mutlak, and linked his declaration to the Thursday visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Muttaqi to Baghdad.

Selim al-Jabbouri of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a top Sunni political leader, says that Mr. Shansal's committee has no right to make such a ruling, since it has no legal existence in the first place.

He says that despite all the publicity that this decision has gotten, the organization that issued it had no right to make it in the first place, since it's very existence is illegal. The original [de-ba'athification] committee, he insists, was dissolved, and its successor was never approved by parliament. It's stunning, he says, that such a committee with no legal existence can make such momentous decisions. In any case, he argues, it's a matter for the courts to decide and no one party has the authority to exclude another from the elections…

Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdal Mehdi, in an attempt to calm the situation, declared, after a visit to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani at his home in Najaf, that everyone should stop getting excited, since no final decisions have been made, yet.

He insists that the matter is still up in the air and that no official [decision was made], so it would be a mistake for Mr. al-Mutlak to take a stand on the matter just yet. No one, for that matter, he stresses, should pronounce on the subject now until we see the full ramifications of the issue, which is to say, who is making the decision, which committee, what's the ruling of the courts, and what's the legality of any decision. That way, he insists, we can weigh everything properly.

Sunni political leaders, including Mr. al-Mutlak, complain that a ruling to exclude him from the political process stems from his growing popularity and his recent alliance with former moderate Shi'ite Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. That alliance, he argues, frightens the ruling Shi'ite coalition under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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