Editor's note: In an unexpected resurgence of sectarian power politics, the Shi'a-led al-Maliki regime installed by the United States has banned the Sunni political leader, Saleh al-Mutlaq, from parliamentary elections scheduled for March. While the ban may be overturned, it is another sign that the US occupation has brought to power a regime determined to marginalize Sunnis, seriously complicating the planned US withdrawal of 50,000 more troops this year and complete withdrawal by late 2011. A delegation of American peace activists met al-Mutlaq, then an elected parliamentarian, and a cross-section of Iraqi leaders at an Amman conference in 2006. On January 1, 2007, American and Iraqi forces stormed his Baghdad house, killing six, while he was attempting to put a peace coalition in power. The following report is by Raed Jarrar, formerly from Iraq and now a senior fellow at the Peace Action Education Fund in Washington DC.
The controversial announcement regarding banning Dr. Saleh Al-Mutlaq is not official yet, because the committee that announced it is not recognized by the Iraqi laws anymore.
When Paul Bremer ruled Iraq, he created the infamous "de-baathefication" committee with the help of Ahmad Al-Chalabi. That committee was disbanded and replaced by another committee called the Truth and Justice Committee a couple of years ago, but the government never submitted any nominations for the new committee to be confirmed by the parliament. So what ended up happening is that the old committee just changed its title and claimed it can continue to do its work under the new name. But the parliament rejected this argument and never recognized the same old appointees to be confirmed for the new committee.
But when the committee announced that Al-Mutlaq is banned from the upcoming elections because he supports and defends Baathist ideas, there was an outrage against the announcement not only because of the legitimacy of the committee, but because Dr. Al-Mutlaq has been a prominent member of the Iraqi political system since 2003. He's not only a head of one of the most important parliamentary blocs, but he also sits on the Iraqi Political Council for National Security. The move was seen as a cheep attempt to take down Dr. Al-Mutlaq by his political opponents from the current ruling parties.
The way the Iraqi public sees it is that Dr. Al-Mutlaq, after uniting with Dr. Allawi and others, might end up winning the upcoming elections. So the ruling parties are trying to bring him down.
If the Iraqi Supreme Court confirms Mr. Al-Lami's recommendations and bans Dr. Al-Mutlaq, his partners will withdraw their bid. This means that Dr. Allawi, Dr. Al-Hashemi, and others will not run in the upcoming elections. This will be a disaster that will destroy what little legitimacy the Iraqi political system has left, and it will definitely decrease the Iraqi public's participation in the upcoming elections.
The March elections have a lot of threats: they might be further delayed by the ruling parties fearing to lose, they might be stolen by the ruling parties with the lack of international observers, and they might be seen as illegitimate if Mutlaq and others were excluded in politically persecuted. What is more dangerous is that the Obama administration and Pentagon have been linking the US withdrawal to conditions on the ground, taking us back to the Bush days of "we'll stand down when the Iraqis stand up".
There are 2 upcoming deadlines for US troops withdrawals: combat forces withdrawal that should take place between April and August of this year bringing the total number of US troops in Iraq down from 128,000 to 50,000, and the number of US contractors from 150,000 to 75,000. The second deadline is the end of the SOFA agreement when ALL US troops (combat+non-combat) must withdraw, ALL US contractors must withdaw, and ALL US bases must be closed ot handed over to the Iraqi side. The current deadline for the SOFA is Dec. 31st 2011, but that might shift a bit earlier in case Iraqis vote "NO" on a public referendum over the agreement triggering the one year cancellation clause.
The next few months will be very important for Iraq and for the US withdrawal. The most important three things to watch:
1- If the Obama Administration falls in the slippery slope of "conditions-based withdrawal," that will take us to square one. If Obama succeeds in implementing the "time-based withdrawal" plan, things will be moving in the right direction.
2- The Obama Administration should encourage US NGOs to send international monitors to the March elections, and allocate emergency funds to cover their expenses. Otherwise, we have a possibility for claims of fraud to cause an Iran-style unrest.
3- The Obama Administration can pressure the Iraqi government (both the Cabinet and Presidential council) to create an inclusive environment that allows more Iraqis to participate in the political process, rather than persecute and alienate those who are willing to work with the system.