Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Iraqi Appeals Court Lifts Ban on Disqualified Candidates

Sometimes I get the feeling that Iraqi politicians create these political crises just to keep the drama going. Some one always over-reaches, which causes everyone to freak out, and then a compromise is struck at the last minute. Maybe that's how they get their kicks. I mean, first the Kurdish parties fomented a crisis back in November by blocking the electoral law until they got what they wanted. At the last minute, a reasonable compromise solved the issue and allowed the process to move forward. Then in December, VP Hashimi vetoed that electoral law because he insisted that it disenfranchised Iraqi refugees, the vast majority of whom are Sunni. How did the Shia religious parties (ISCI and their allies) respond? By coming up with a new law that further disenfranchised Sunnis. At the last minute, again, a compromise was reached and the electoral law was passed.

The latest political crisis stemmed from a decision by a legally ambiguous body deciding to ban over 500 candidates from the upcoming elections due to their alleged Baathist ties. The decision inflamed sectarian tensions, since many of the more prominent candidates who were banned were Sunni. The decision sent the Obama administration's Iraq team into full force trying to get this bizarre decision overturned so respectable elections could take place and pave the way for the planned withdrawal of US troops in the summer.

Thus, Wednesday's announcement that an Iraqi appeals court had overturned the decision to ban over 500 candidates was a great relief to everyone concerned (except to ISCI and Ahmed Chalabi's crew). Al-Arabiyya reported that the appeals court decided to reinstate the banned candidates, but that another review process will take place after the elections. This is the compromise that Joe Biden was pushing for. I'm not exactly sure of the behind-the-scenes role that Biden played, but at least one Iraqi media outlet is complaining that the court "gave in under pressure from Biden."

Though this appears to be good news, Iraq's problems are far from fixed. The most bizarre thing about this whole episode is that nobody in the Iraqi government (especially Jalal Talabani and Nuri al-Maliki) seemed that dismayed about the fact that 500 candidates had been disqualified under highly dubious legal pretenses. Talabani and Maliki voiced some complaints, but one could hardly qualify them as outrage over blatant despotism. Perhaps they were more active behind the scenes? Perhaps Maliki didn't want to be publicly seen as advocating on the behalf of alleged Baathists?

Nevertheless, the political system still seems inherently broken. And I say inherently because of the way it was set up under the Iraqi Constitution. The question now is if elections next month will produce any meaningful change whatsoever. Will we see cross-sectarian alliances and real compromises made during the process to form a government? And how will the new government navigate the thorny issues like the status of Kirkuk, the hydrocarbons law, and integrating the Awakening councils into government positions? These questions remain to be answered.

On second thought, Iraqi politicians really shouldn't be faulted for fostering so much drama. I mean, has anyone seen the United States Congress lately? No wonder Jon Stewart is so successful.

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