Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has endorsed a plan, drawn up by a commission led by fellow Shiite Ahmed Chalabi, that would disqualify 500 candidates from upcoming elections, including many leading Sunni politicians. As the Los Angeles Times reports,
The decision by the Accountability and Justice Commission to bar the candidates has revived Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions, called into question the Iraqi government’s commitment to reconciliation and cast doubt over the likely inclusiveness of elections that U.S. officials are hoping will stabilize Iraq. . . . “This is totally a political decision,” said Maysoon Damluji, a legislator with the secular coalition led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, which is believed to have had “many” candidates disqualified. “This is one way to get rid of your political opponents, by de-Baathifying them,” she said.
Two scholars of the Iraq conflict, Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, raise alarm bells today in the New York Times:
If the ban is allowed to stand, it will do more than just throw a wrench in the works. It will persuade a great many Iraqis that the prime minister or other Shiites, like Mr. Chalabi, are using their control over the electoral mechanics to kneecap their rivals. It may also convince many Sunnis that they will never be allowed to win if they play by the rules, and that violence is their only option.
That is an extraordinarily dangerous message to send right now, when the United States is trying hard to withdraw tens of thousands more American troops from Iraq and shift 50,000 or so from combat operations to advisory and training roles. If this ban remains in effect, the likelihood of electoral violence will skyrocket, and American soldiers will inevitably be called on to halt it.
For more on the politics behind the White House’s dilemma, see Michael Hastings’ blog.