Sectarianism 1; Democracy 0

[tweetmeme] Remember those cartoons of tennis matches, where you would only see the heads of the people in the stands going back and forth? That is kind of what is happening right now in Iraq. But instead of Bugs Bunny and, uh, let’s say Daffy Duck playing tennis, it is free and open democracy and sectarianism. Confused by that analogy? I am. I am also a bit confused by Iraq. Lets recap.

So in an effort to prevent loyalists to Saddam Hussein from participating in the Iraqi government, Iraq banned over 500 politicians from the next round of elections in March.  The banned politicians included members from all sects, but were mainly Sunni and secular.  The decision to ban the politicians was seen as an effort to intimidate the Sunni and secular groups and was done in the grey area of Iraqi law.  Banned politicians had three days to appeal to a hastily created and incomplete appeals court.

Then US Vice President Joe Biden came over to Baghdad and privately relayed the unhappiness of the US with the decision (publicly he said it was an Iraqi affair).  Soon after, an Iraqi appeals court overturned the ban, calling the ban illegal.  The court decided that all of the previously banned politicians could participate in the March elections, but would not take office until their past political ties were scrutinized by another appeals court.  The higher-ups in the government – including Maliki, al-Lami and al-Hakim – were all opposed to overturning the ban and called a special Parliament meeting to discuss the legality of the decision.

Now, most recently, President Talabani, PM al-Maliki, Parliament Speaker al-Sammaraie and the head of the judiciary, al-Mahmud had a special meeting yesterday and agreed to overturn the decision to overturn the decision to disqualify candidates from the election.  Wow.  So the disqualification of politicians that was deemed illegal by the appeals court is back.

The back and forth tennis match happening in Baghdad is returning to the sectarianism of the original ban.  As Reider Visser notes, the decision could have serious consequences for Iraq’s fledging democracy:

It seems likely that the relatively strong character of the initial ruling by the appeals court (with a direct attempt at reinstating candidates) was an attempt at pre-empting moves by Ali al-Lami of the de-Baathification board to pressure the IHEC to ignore the court’s decisions on individual appeals (this had already been publicly hinted at by Lami prior to the release of the decision by the appeals court). The minimum the international community can now do is to send a clear signal that any attempt by the IHEC to override the decisions of the appeals court in individual cases next week will make it exceedingly difficult for the outside world to continue to classify Iraq as a “democracy” in any meaningful sense of the word, something which in turn will inevitably have a negative impact on foreign aid and investment.

There will certainly be protests by Sunni and secular groups who see the ban for what it is.  If the elections are not open to many of the banned politicians, the Iraqi government will be seriously flawed.  Already, however, Shi’ite political parties are already protesting in favor of the ban.  Yesterday, hundreds of people came out in Baghdad to denounce the Baath party and warn against the dangers of allowing Hussein sympathizers back into politics.

It is hard to believe that there will be another overturned decision in this game.  Be sure that the US and the minority political parties targeted by the bac will soon react and protest against this turn away from democracy.


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