On January 7, 2010 the Accountability and Justice Commission, which replaced the DeBaathification Commission, pronounced that it was banning 14 political lists and 400 candidates from the March 2010 elections. The reason given was that they were all connected to Baathists. The most prominent politician facing a ban was Saleh al-Mutlaq. He heads the National Dialogue Front, which joined with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and Vice President Tariq al-Hasemi in the new Iraqi National Movement List to run in 2010. Mutlaq participated in the 2005 elections and his party won 11 seats in parliament. He later went on to help draft the constitution that year as well. This decision could undermine Sunni participation in Iraqi politics, and is just the latest episode in the sordid history of the DeBaathification process.
The Accountability and Justice Commission’s announcement led to immediate protests from several leading Sunni politicians. One told Aswat al-Iraq that Mutlaq had been “politically liquidated,” while others are threatening a boycott of the 2010 elections unless Mutlaq is allowed to participate. The leaders of the Iraqi National Movement condemned the move. Sunnis have been participating in the government and elections more and more, which is a major reason why violence declined so much in 2009. Mutlaq’s banning, and a boycott could undermine that process.
According to Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, the chief of the Accountability and Justice Commission Ali al-Lami and the chairman of the accountability and justice committee in parliament who is a Sadrist, made the decision against Mutlaq and the others. Lami claimed that the Commission had found new documents connecting Mutlaq to Baathists. Mutlaq and the other politicians and lists’ fate now lies with the Election Commission, which will have the final say on whether they can run in the upcoming vote.
The Accountability and Justice Commission and Lami have a controversial past. DeBaathification began on May 16, 2003 with Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 1. The decision was widely criticized for cutting too deep into the Iraqi bureaucracy and creating opponents to the new Iraq. Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) was also put in charge of the DeBaathification Commission, and was accused of using it against his political opponents as well as blackmailing people, and extorting money from them. In April 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer admitted to his mistakes and reversed the order saying that it was poorly implemented. The 2005 Iraqi constitution maintained the Commission however, and Lami, who was Chalabi’s deputy, later succeeded him as its head. In August 2008, Lami was arrested by the United States for allegedly working with Iranian intelligence, and the Tehran backed League of the Righteous to carry out a bombing in Sadr City in June 2008 that killed members of the local council and two U.S. soldiers. One year later Lami was set free as part of a deal the Iraqi government worked out with the League and the British government to release members of the League in return for five British nationals who were kidnapped by the group in May 2007. In January 2008 the Iraqi parliament passed the Accountability and Justice Law, which was suppose to replace the DeBaathification Commission with the Accountability and Justice Commission, and create new rules for the process. The problem was that parliament never implemented the law by naming new commission members. Instead, Lami and others from the old commission simply took over the new one. This further complicates their decision since the legislature has never approved their positions.
DeBaathification has never been an objective process. Shiite Baathists were often allowed to rejoin political life, while Sunnis felt persecuted. Commission members used it for their own benefit and against their opponents. The Accountability and Justice Commission’s decision to ban Saleh al-Mutlaq and others smacks of more of the same. It could greatly undermine the political changes going on in Iraq that has seen more and more Sunnis participating, which in turn might affect security. The fact that Ali al-Lami hasn’t even been approved for his position by parliament just adds to the theater that is Iraqi politics. Hopefully the Election Commission will overturn his decision, so that the elections can move forward.
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