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Obama Has Some Major Iraq Tests Coming His Way

As the March elections approach, the Obama Administration must not move toward a "conditions-based withdrawal."
 
 
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Last week, an Iraqi governmental commission banned more than a dozen political parties and leading political figures from the upcoming March elections. Among those banned was one of Iraq's most significant players, Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq, a secular nationalist leader and a head of one of the most important parliamentary blocs.

When Paul Bremer ruled Iraq, he created the infamous "de-baathefication" commission with the help of Ahmad Al-Chalabi. A couple of years ago, that commission was disbanded, and it was supposed to be replaced by another new body called the "Accountability and Justice Commission." But the Iraqi government never submitted nominations to the parliament for confirmation to form the new commission. So what ended up happening is that the old de-baathiefication commission just changed its title and claimed it can continue its work under the new name. But the parliament rejected this argument and never recognized the same old appointees to be confirmed for the new committee. So when the unrecognized "Accountability and Justice Commission" announced that Al-Mutlaq was banned from the upcoming elections because of his support to Baathist ideologies, there was an Iraqi outrage not only because of the lack of legitimacy of the commission, but also because Dr. Al-Mutlaq has been a prominent member of the Iraqi political system since 2003. He's not only a head of one of the most important parliamentary blocs, but he also sits on the Iraqi Political Council for National Security.

For the last few week, Dr. Al-Mutlaq and others in coalition have been under continues attacks by the current Iraqi ruling parties, so this latest attempt to ban Dr. Al-Mutlaq is seen as another political maneuver to take down that nationalist coalition.

If the Iraqi Supreme Court confirms the commission's recommendations and bans Dr. Al-Mutlaq, his partners in the coalition have already announced they will boycott the upcoming elections. This means that Dr. Allawi, Dr. Al-Hashemi, Mr. AL-Nujaifi, Dr. Al-Ani and others in the coalition will not run in the upcoming elections, leaving the current ruling parties to compete against each other without any real participation from opposition parties and leaders. This will be a disaster that might destroy what little legitimacy the Iraqi political system has left, and it will definitely decrease the Iraqi public's participation in the upcoming elections.

The March elections have a lot of threats: Elections might be further delayed by the ruling parties fearing to lose; Elections might be stolen by the ruling parties with the lack of international observers; and elections might be seen as illegitimate if opposition parties were excluded and politically persecuted.

Raed Jarrar is Senior Fellow on the Middle East for Peace Action & Peace Action Education Fund (formerly SANE/Freeze).