Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has called for an emergency session of parliament on Sunday to debate the decision by an appeals court to overturn the ban on 500 candidates running in March’s election.
“Postponing implementing the law of the Justice and Accountability Commission (JAC) until after the election is illegal and not constitution,” declared Maliki government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.
But several in the government, including President Jalal Talabani, have questioned the authority of the Ahmed Chalabi-run JAC to issue wholesale bans on candidates on the basis of ill-defined links to the former Ba’athist government.
The court ruled that the bans would be reviewed after the March election, but that the 500 candidates effected by the bans were free to run in the election. The complete list of candidates was never publicly released, but it included several high profile Sunni members of one of the largest secular political blocs, including MP Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Which led to inevitable concerns that the JAC was operating primarily on the basis of political motives. Chalabi’s bloc, the Iraqi National Congress, stood to gain considerably if the secular bloc of former Prime Minisyer Ayad Allawi lost a good chunk of its constituency (which would have been inevitable after Mutlaq’s banning).
Many Sunnis had threatened to boycott the election to protest Mutlaq’s banning, and the United States, among others, had pressured for a delay like the one the court has ordered. The Maliki government’s efforts in parliament will certainly focus publicly on the dangers of the Sunni Arab minority gaining political power, but privately much of the support for it will have to rely on political opportunism that would result from destroying a key opposition faction.