Take That Sectarianism!

UPDATE #2: The Majlis reports that Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki, the chairman of the Justice and Accountability Commission, Ali Faysal al-Lami, and the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim all oppose the decision to overturn the ban.  A special emergency session of Parliament is being called to review the decision and, according to Maliki’s spokesman, will be specifically focused on “overturning the decision.”  Still something to watch.

UPDATE: Asharq Alawsat is now reporting that the Iraqi government considers the decision to overturn the ban illegal and unconstitutional.  It is unclear who is the driving force behind this announcement or whether the announcement will change anything.  According to the website of Ali al-Dagbagh, the government spokesman, ‘Postponing implementing the law of the Justice and Accountability Commission till after the election is illegal and not constitutional.’  I’ll continue to monitor this as more information comes in.

[tweetmeme] Free democracy might have won the day in Iraq.

The last time we checked in on Iraq, the electoral committee was in the midst of (possibly illegally) banning over 500 candidates from the March elections.  The ban would have covered all groups across the political spectrum, but was overwhelmingly targeting Sunni and secular groups.  If the ban succeeded, it would have pushed the fragile Iraqi democracy closer to a Lebanese, sectarian democracy.  Today, however, an Iraqi appeals court has rejected the ban, allowing all candidates to compete in the elections.  News stories can be found at BBC, the Washington Post and Al Jazeera.  Marc Lynch and Reidar Visser have analysis.

As more and more details come out, it seems as though the electoral committee will allow all candidates to compete in the elections, but previously barred candidates will not be able to take office until a thorough investigation of previous Baathist associations is complete.  If the commission determines that the winning candidate is unfit for office due to previous political connections, the election will be nullified and a new politician will be elected to the position.  It is unknown how the barred candidates will react to the new deal although a spokesman for the Iraqiyya Party – the party the most targeted by the ban – said that the new terms were acceptable.

The new decision – to review the candidates after the election – was requested by President Jalal Talabani and is eerily similar to the plan that US Vice-President Joe Biden suggested during his recent trip to Baghdad.  Lynch points out that the resolution to the disqualification crisis was completely done within Iraqi institutions, but that the pressure to overturn the ban by the US was heavy.  In addition to Biden, US Ambassador Christopher Hill, President Obama and General Petraeus have all expressed their discontent with the ban.

Lynch and Visser both point to the recent decision as a delicate victory.  The ban was an attempt at sectarian intimidation and that it was overturned represents a victory for transparency and democracy.  Yet, as Visser notes:

At any rate, dirty tricks are being used on both sides. Still, in terms of the overall atmosphere of the elections this latest development will at least serve to create a greater sense of balance of power. The de-Baathification board tried to create an air of intimidation and the impression that they controlled the system; with the abrupt postponement of the de-Baathification process their opponents will now feel that the international community has intervened, albeit covertly and indirectly, and therefore somehow remains capable both of diagnosing systemic problems in Iraq and of responding to gross irregularities in the electoral process.

Because the decision to overturn the ban was pushed so hard by Americans, I wonder whether this reversal is simply postponing the inevitable.  After the US withdraws from Iraq, the Americans will still have considerable influence on the infantile Iraqi democracy.  One should be wary that similar sectarian efforts don’t reappear after American withdrawal.  For now, the overturned ban represents a point for democracy and a chance for a wide array of parliamentarians in March.

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