News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqSaleh Mutlaq pulls out of Iraqi elections threatening US...

Saleh Mutlaq pulls out of Iraqi elections threatening US plans


ImageThe Times: The Obama Administration has talked of next month’s elections in Iraq as being a transformative event that will put the country on track for a stable future and allow for the withdrawal of US combat troops. The Times

Oliver August, Baghdad

ImageThe Obama Administration has talked of next month’s elections in Iraq as being a transformative event that will put the country on track for a stable future and allow for the withdrawal of US combat troops. That scenario, however, looks increasingly doubtful after one of Iraq’s most prominent Sunni parliamentarians pulled his party out of the national elections and called for a boycott.

Saleh Mutlaq, who was banned from standing as a candidate, said his National Dialogue Front was withdrawing in protest at a “dirty tricks”campaign, thought to be masterminded by Iran and aimed at securing power for a Shia government.

The move is reminiscent of the Sunni boycott in the 2005 parliamentary elections that led to the disenfranchisement of a large part of the population, and is viewed as a major contributor to the sectarian war that followed.

Other Sunni groups have not, so far, joined Mr Mutlaq’s protest, but they, too, have complained about dirty tricks, as have some Shia politicians.

International observers have significantly lowered their expectations for the poll in recent days. Few diplomats in Baghdad now talk about “free and fair elections”, since they clearly won’t be. The new publicly stated goal is a “credible election”, but even that seems doubtful.

Pressed to sketch out a best-case scenario, several diplomats talk of an election that, despite its flaws, is merely accepted by the people. This is far from the democracy once envisaged. The new outlook is a significant reversal. Stability and reconciliation between the sects seemed a distinct possibility until a few months ago, but the decision to disallow Mr Mutlaq’s candidacy on spurious grounds has reversed Iraq’s positive momentum.

“The National Dialogue Front has made its final stand. It will boycott the election, but it will stay part of the political process,” a party spokesman, Haider al-Mulla, said. “The call is open for other political parties to take the same stand as our front. The whole issue is not related to [the candidate ban], rather the unsuitable atmosphere.”

Mr Mutlaq is one of about 145 candidates from different parties whose appeals against a decision by a Shia-dominated commission to bar them were rejected this month. His party was a member of a cross-sectarian coalition, Iraqiya, headed by Iyad Allawi, a former Prime Minister and secular Shia with ambitions to regain office.

The Iraqiya alliance said it would continue to participate in the election despite the boycott. “The list believes that the best reaction [against the candidate ban] is wide participation in the coming election and for our list to achieve a great win, and to make forward-looking change,” said Maysoun al-Damalouji, a spokesman for the group.

The ban on candidates with alleged ties to the outlawed Sunni-dominated Baath party of Saddam Hussein has fanned Sunni fears of a plot by Iraq’s majority Shia to marginalise them.

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