Iraq Implementing Lebanese Sectarianism

[tweetmeme] Democracy in Iraq is certainly fragile.

In 2003, after the US invasion, a de-Baathification committee was set up to bar those politicians who supported Saddam Hussein from participating in politics; this law was updated in 2008.  Earlier this month, the Justice and Accountability Commission – the committee that replaced the

Iraq's electoral commission recently disqualified 511 candidates from the upcoming March elections, a decision that moves Iraq closer to a Lebanese-style sectarianism

de-Baathification committee – released a decision that 15 political parties should be banned from the March elections.  The most prominent politician on the list was Salah al-Mutlak – a Sunni politician who has participated in government for the last four years and has positioned himself – and his coalition, the Iraqiyya coalition – as nationalist, “Iraq” first.

The decision by the Justice and Accountability Committee was non-binding, but was immediately dismissed as a blow to Iraq’s sovereignty and its young democracy.  Mutlak accused the Committee of being influenced by Iran while Reider Visser called the decision a set-back for Iraq’s democracy:

The proposal concerning Mutlak now apparently goes to the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC), which is supposed to be more independent, but whose members were in reality also elected on the basis of loyalties to political parties – and with an even poorer representation for secular Iraqis (only one of the nine commissioners is believed to have ties to Iraqiyya). This is going to be a test case not only for the IHEC but for the whole Iraqi political process.

Eventually it was decided (perhaps illegally) by the electoral commission (IHEC) that 511 candidates would be barred from the elections.  While some saw the list as religiously motivated, it was aimed more at secularist parties.  The whole procedure was viewed by Visser as more like despotism than democracy and a way to reinforce sectarianism in Iraq: “in sum, rather than being an attempt at a complete exclusion or elimination of political enemies, these de-Baathification measures seem aimed at intimidating and terrorising, with the overarching motive of keeping sectarian issues on the agenda.”

Indeed, the nationalist and secularist parties were the hardest hit in terms of number of politicians barred.  In another blow to the democratic process, the appeal window was reduced from 30-days to 3-days and the appeals court was only half filled.

The US has somewhat half-heartedly opposed this whole process, with VP Joe Biden recently flying to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, PM Nuri al-Maliki and Speaker Ayad al-Sammarraie.  Biden expressed concern about the disqualification process, but left promising no US interference and a US government appeal on the recent Blackwater decision.  Visser points out that the appeals process- just like the disqualification process – will be highly corrupt:

Doubtless, “un-Baathifications” will be available for sale to those who can pay the right price (much in the way they were sold and bought last week) and may go some way to reduce the sense of marginalisation; after all, the aim behind this whole plot was probably just to secure a sufficiently sectarian climate before the elections, which has already almost been achieved.

Furthermore, Visser points out that Biden’s promise to appeal the Blackwater decision allows the President, PM and Speaker to appear nationalistic, despite encouraging the disqualification of many nationalist politicians.

Recently, Mutlak was back on the scene trying to discredit the proceedings and once again blaming the disqualifications on Iran.  For more, see the video below.

Earlier I mentioned an article by Michel Totten that compared the sectarianism of Lebanon with the growing sectarianism of Iraq.  The conclusion was obvious – there are things that Baghdad can learn from Beirut, but sectarianism is not one of them.  Indeed, the sectarian nature of the Lebanese government has Speaker Nabih Berri trying to set up a commission to abolish the constitutional sectarianism in the country.  The continuation of the allegedly illegal disqualification process not only taints the new democracy in Iraq, but it also pushes the country further to a sectarian future.  A future that, as Lebanon can attest to, is full of diplomatic problems.

In other Iraqi news, yesterday’s coordinated bombings in Baghdad – which killed at least 36 – were followed by another attack today killing 18.  The attacks were aimed to undermine the government (to show the government’s inability to provide security) and coincided with the execution of Ali Hasan al-Majid – more popularly named ‘Chemical Ali’

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