Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has announced today that after reviewing recommendations by the Justice and Accountability Committee it has decided to ban upwards of 500 candidates from participating in March’s election.
The IHEC insists that it banned the candidates, including top opposition MP Saleh al-Mutlaq, for “Ba’ath affiliations” and that the candidates are welcome to challenge the ruling but will have to do so in three days. It will likely be difficult for them to disprove allegations that appear to have been built almost solely on heresay and a general mistrust of Sunnis, however.
And while the Justice committee insisted yesterday it was considering banning Shi’ites accused of being affiliated with the banned Sunnis, so far IHEC is keeping the list secret and not a single Shi’ite has been named among the banned.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi slammed the decision, warning it would deepen sectarian tensions in the nation. Allawi, a Shi’ite, is considered a close ally of the Sunni Mutlaq.
Which is the most perplexing thing about the bans, really. The Ba’ath Party was banned after the 2003 US invasion, and key Sunnis have been persecuted from that point on allegations of being members of the group and sewing sectarianism. Yet many of the banned figures are members of explicitly non-sectarian lists, which include Shi’ites, and have harshly criticized the Shi’ite ruled government of Nouri al-Maliki for divisiveness.
The ban effectively knocks a good portion of the Sunni Arab candidates out of the March election, and it is feared it may lead to a general boycott of the election among Sunni voters.
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