Iraq Election Tensions Stir White House Mission

Growing Sunni Ire Over Election Bans a Top Priority

by Jason Ditz, January 20, 2010

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to arrive in Iraq soon, perhaps within the next few days, in an attempt by the US to smooth out rising sectarian tensions between the ruling Shi’ites and the Sunni Arab minority.

Sunnis have been increasingly riled by a ban, stemming from claims by an election oversight body run by Ahmed Chalabi, which has prevented over 500 candidates from running in the March election. The details of the list have not been made public, but it reportedly includes several members from one of the key Sunni political blocs, including a top opposition MP.

The bannings effectively destroy the third largest political alliance in Iraq just months ahead of the election, and are seen by many as an attempt by the Maliki government to cement its hold on power.

Another issue Biden is expected to address is a pledge by the Najaf Provincial government, a Shi’ite dominated region centered around the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf, to purge the region of “Ba’athist ideas,” seen by the province’s Sunni minority as a euphemism for a sectarian purge.

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