01/25/2010, 00.00
IRAQ - IRAN
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Shadow of Tehran and Washington hangs over Iraqi elections

by Layla Yousif Rahema
The elections held on 7 March. Al-Maliki approved the exclusion of 511 candidates linked to the Ba'ath Party. Among those excluded are Sunni, Shiite moderates and members of non-confessional parties. Tension between President Talabani (a Kurd) and Premier (Shia).

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit last weekend to Baghdad had only one goal to calm the troubled waters of Iraqi politics ahead of general elections on March 7. Meanwhile Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (Shia) and President Jalal Talabani (Kurdish) are engaged in a tug of war over the exclusion of 511 candidates for alleged ties to Saddam’s Ba'ath party.

Talabani has asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of the Commission of Justice and accountability, the department that decided the exclusion of hundreds of candidates from the polls. The measure was then ratified by the Electoral Commission and supported by the premier. Talabani it seems acted under pressure from Washington, worried that the exclusion of other secular Shiites and Sunnis from the vote may rekindle violence between the two ethnic groups in a few months after the planned withdrawal of US troops. According to the Arab press, moreover, the United States would have asked Baghdad to delay the implementation of measures of de-Baathification until after the election. For his part, Maliki has said that he will not tolerate outside interference in the elections.

And if some see Washington moving the Iraqi president’s hand, others see Tehran’s behind the verdict the director of the Commission of Justice and accountability. He is none other than the chief of the old Supreme Commission for De-Baathification, Ahmed Chalabi: creator of the de-ba'atification and former ally of the Pentagon, played a key role in the invasion in Iraq, but today is considered an agent in the pay of Iran. The Executive Director, however, is Ali Faisal al-Lami: he spent a year in U.S. custody, because believed involved in an attack on government buildings in Sadr City that killed two Americans. Both are presenting themselves for election on 7 March with the Iraqi National Alliance, which groups the majority of Shiite forces. The Commission ensures that the names on the backlist are people who have been part of the political or military regime of Saddam Hussein. Most penalized candidates are Arab Sunnis, whose sense of exclusion is growing day by day, and those of secular and nationalist figures such as the members of the alliance of former premier Iyad Allawi.  Biden’s visit over the weekend in Baghdad, the third since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from cities in June, had as its aim the search for a compromise between the parties. For now, Obama's deputy said he was confident that Iraqis will be able to "overcome these differences in a political process." He assured that Washington will not interfere in the electoral process, but expressed concern that the clash over the blacklist of candidates may have negative repercussions on the credibility of the general election. Already before the Biden’s visit, rumors had spread that U.S. officials have warned the Iraqi government of the possibility that the United States and international community will not recognize the outcome of the March elections, if the exclusion of 511 candidates is confirmed.

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