Iraq’s electoral commission bars 500 candidates

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s electoral commission on Thursday barred 500 candidates from running in March’s parliamentary election, including a prominent Sunni lawmaker, in a decision that is sure to deepen Iraq’s sectarian divides.

Hamdia al-Hussaini, a commissioner on the Independent High Electoral Commission, said the commission made the decision after receiving the list from a parliament committee that vets candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party.

Article on Salah Mutlaq ban

Ba’ath saga haunts Iraq’s future
Ranj Alaaldin

De-Ba’athification is derailing the national reconciliation process, but Sunnis will not necessarily chose to boycott elections

The Iraqi government is treading a fine line after its Accountability and Justice commission (also known as the “de-Ba’athification” commission) moved to bar a prominent Sunni politician, Salah al-Mutlaq, and 14 others from contesting the national elections in March because of their ties with the outlawed Ba’ath party.

Mutlaq heads the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, which in last year’s provincial elections performed well in Sunni-dominated areas. He is considered a key player, and for the forthcoming elections has joined forces with fellow former Ba’athist and former Iraqi premier Ayad Allawi, along with current vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi. Both command a significant following and the grouping, named the Iraqi National Movement (INM), should be a force to be reckoned with, especially ifprevious election results are anything to go by.

It is no surprise then that Sunni officials consider this another plot by the Shia-dominated government to outmanoeuvre and marginalise the Sunnis, who this time round are expected to come out and vote en masse and, therefore, threaten the dominance of Iraq’s other major groups.

The whole affair may indeed seem like a sinister anti-Sunni campaign in anticipation of the coming elections. After all, Mutlaq’s Ba’ath history has been known all along, and never stopped him from contesting the 2005 elections. INM officials have linked the decision to Iranian foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki’s visit to Baghdad, just one day before it was made.

Prolific Iraq commentator Reidar Visser refers to the “selective de-Ba’athification” process being pursued in Iraq, given that historically, he notes, the Shias and Sunnis alike co-operated with the old regime in their millions. He criticises the Iraqi government for singling out Sunni political opponents as Ba’athists and for silently co-opting political friends without mentioning their Ba’athist ties at all.

But while Visser’s argument holds water to some extent, it is important to draw a line between those Ba’athists who were deeply embedded within the regime through and throughout (that is Mutlaq) and those that may have served the regime’s opportunistic endeavours at any given point and who were not, therefore, deep-rooted regime loyalists even if they thought they were (that is the Shia tribes, Kurdish Jash, and so on).

Moreover, the list issued by the commission also includes non-Sunni Arab groups. It includes, for instance, Jawhar al-Harki, a Kurd who calls himself a former adviser to Saddam; it also includes Arshad al-Zibari, again a Kurd who has been cited as a close friend and ally of Saddam’s. Both are allied with the al-Hadba group in Mosul, which controls the provincial council there. Al-Hadba, dominated and funded by Ba’ath loyalists, is also part of the INM. Curiously, the commission does not ban them outright.

Historically, the Ba’athists have a habit of resurfacing and exploiting state and military structures, and there is still a significant group of Ba’athists within and/or beyond Iraq’s borders that continue to prepare and mount terrorist atrocities. What is difficult to determine is whether those seemingly reconciled Ba’athists have truly changed their colours, and herein lays the concerns of not just Iraq’s Shias and Kurds but also of former British ambassador to Iraq John Jenkins, who last week gave evidence to the Iraq inquiry. Further, Mutlaq himself has courted factions that still support the Ba’ath party, suggesting it continues to be a key component of Iraqi society.

What is not clear at this point is how the Arab street feels, an important factor in determining how the Sunni electorate will react on 7 March. Iraq’s other dominant Sunni groups, such as the Anbar Awakening Council, led by Abu Risha, and the Iraqi Accord Front coalition, which used to include Tariq al-Hashimi, have so far provided a relatively muted response. They may see no reason to boycott the elections; the latter took part in the 2005 election despite a Sunni boycott, while the former will point out that Mutlaq himself decided to contest the 2005 election while they, along with the rest of the Awakening forces, were busy fighting coalition forces.

Mutlaq’s coalition partners in the INM, made up mostly of pragmatists, are also unlikely to withdraw from the political process, despite threatening to do so. Further, it is hoped the Sunnis have largely left, or hope to leave behind their violent, exclusionary past in the new Iraq. It is difficult to imagine that they would make the same strategic mistakes.

Still, Iraq’s electoral commission will decide whether to press ahead with the ban after it has received the commission’s formal report. Suspected parties can then launch an appeal. However, the saga has already hurt the process of national reconciliation, imperative for long-term stability and US withdrawal plans, and as a result the damage may have already been done.

More on decision to ban #Iraq parties; full list provided

Yesterday the Accountability and Justice Commission (also known as the “de-Baathification commission”) moved to bar prominent Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlaq from contesting the country’s national elections in March. This may have disastrous ramifications for national reconciliation, marginalise the Sunnis once again, and prove disastrous for broader Iraqi politics and security, as well as US plans for withdrawal which depends on stability in the country.

Though this may seem like an entirely anti-Sunni campaign in anticipation of the coming elections, the list does include other groups including Kurd Arshad al-Zibari of The [Iraqi] Kurdistan Justice Party. Arshad al-Zibari is considered a discredited “Jash” because of his involvement with the Baath government. Reports suggest he was a close ally of Saddam, a friend, and a member of his security group.

He is also part of the al-Hadba group in Mosul which controls the provincial council there. Al-Hadba is dominated by Baath loyalists; curiously, the commission does not ban them outright.

The full list of those the commission seeks to ban – a total of 15 – is provided below. Iraq’s electoral commission will decide within days whether to ban them, after it has received the Justice committee’s formal report, and  suspected parties can then launch an appeal before a panel of three judges appointed specifically to deal with electoral matters.

1. The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, headed by Salih al-Mutlaq

“2. The Iraqi National Unity Grouping, headed by Nihru Abd-al-Karim

“3. The Solution Movement, headed by Jamal al-Karbuli

“4. The Iraqi Republican Grouping, headed by Sa’d Asim al-Janabi

“5. The Al-Rafidayn National Trend, headed by Husayn al-Safi

“6. The Iraqi Al-Sawa’id Grouping, headed by Salih al-Sa’idi

“7. The Our Sons Bloc, headed by Abdallah al-Wahb

“8. The National Council of the Grouping of Iraqi Tribes, headed by Mustafa al-Juburi

“9. The Iraqi Social Movement, headed by Ahmad al-Rakan

“10. Sa’d al-Juburi List, headed by Sa’d al-Juburi

“11. The Kurdistan Justice Party, Arshad al-Zibari

“12. The All of Iraq Bloc, headed by Jawhar al-Harki

“13. The People’s Trend, headed by Ali al-Sajri

“14. The Iraqi Resurrection Party, headed by Abd-al-Jabbar al-Khazraji

“15. The National Change Plan, headed by Ali Khalifah”

Always something between Erbil and Baghdad

Kurdistan Alliance officials have said certain clauses in the draft 2010 budget law constitute an attempt to pressure the Kurdistan Regional Government because of oil contracts signed with global companies. Abd-al-Muhsin al-Sa’dun, member of the Kurdistan Alliance Bloc, has said that some clauses refer to imposing sanctions on governorates and regions where oil pumping stops for certain reasons. Back in October Kurdistan stopped oil exports because of continuing disputes with Baghdad. Though oil from the north may have to be exported through Iraqi government pipelines running to Turkey, giving Baghdad a stranglehold on the transport of oil produced there, Iraq needs all the revenue it can get to finance its reconstruction, civil service, and the provision of basic services.

Iraq Oil Exports up by 4%

Iraq Dec Oil Exports Up 4% On Month At 1.977 Million B/D

Iraq’s crude oil exports in December were up 4% at 1.977 million barrels a day, compared with 1.902 million barrels a day in November, an Iraqi oil industry source said Monday.

He said that Iraq exported in December an average of 1.534 million barrels a day from the southern Basra oil terminal, up from 1.498 million barrels a day in November.

Some 433,000 barrels a day were exported from Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq via the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The remaining 10,000 barrels a day were exported to Jordan via trucks, he added.

Iraq’s crude oil exports have slowed down below the 2 million barrels-a-day target since September due to attacks on the northern export pipeline. In December, an attack on the pipeline suspended exports via the northern pipeline for a few days. Similar attacks took place in October and September. Iraq usually exports 480,000 barrels a day via that pipeline.

Sadrist Bloc becomes the Free People Bloc

The Sadrist Bloc will run in the upcoming parliamentary elections as the Free People Bloc (Al-Ahrar Bloc); the bloc is made up of other independent candidates and not just those from the Sadrist trend. The head of the bloc is Nassar al-Rubay’i. The Sadrists presented their democratic colourings when they held primary elections back in October, the so far only party to do so in Iraq.

Iraq oil minister Hussain al-Shahristani under fire

Hussain al-Shahristani is under fire for attempting to replace the current director of the Iraqi North Oil Company with an aide of his who, ostensibly, is a loyal political and economic partner.

Staff at North Oil threatened to go on strike and halt oil production if he goes ahead. According to Dubai’s Al-Sharqiyah, North Oil employees criticised Shahristani for appointing his own, personal, aides in the oil ministry and Iraq’s oil companies for the purposes of influencing the country’s oil contracts and revenues for personal and party-political purposes.

The Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) was founded in 1966 by the Iraqi government. It was empowered to operate all aspects of the oil industry in Iraq except for refining which was already being run by the Oil Refineries Administration (1952) and local distribution which was also already under government control.