Shiite-led vetting committee says it’s finished with scrutinizing election candidates

By Rebecca Santana, AP
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Iraqi vetting commission to end election work

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s committee charged with vetting officials for ties to Saddam Hussein’s regime will not ban any more candidates from the disputed election though the fate of nine others that could change the results appeared unresolved, officials said Wednesday.

The decision on whether to bar the nine candidates, most linked to the Sunni-backed political list that won the most parliamentary seats, has emerged as one of the most contentious issues amid the turmoil that erupted after the election failed to produce a clear winner.

A ruling could tilt the balance in favor of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s mainly Shiite bloc, which is vying with Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya to form a new government. That has raised concerns about a new round of violence if Iraq’s disaffected Sunni minority, which has been at the heart of the insurgency, feels disenfranchised.

The Shiite-dominated committee has played havoc with Iraq’s parliamentary elections, first by barring hundreds of candidates before the vote, then recommending that nine winners also be disqualified.

Sunnis, who were dominant under Saddam, maintain that the commission is biased and operating on a sectarian agenda to exclude them from the political process.

The two men who lead the so-called Accountability and Justice Committee said no more action would be taken against candidates in the March 7 vote, but they disagreed on whether the nine winners would still face disqualification. The U.S. says both men have links to Iran.

A spokesman for commission president Ahmad Chalabi said the committee was no longer pursuing any action against the nine candidates accused of links to Saddam’s ousted Baath Party and he expected them to be able to take their seats in parliament.

“The commission is not pursuing their de-Baathification,” Entifadh Qanbar said.

But Ali al-Lami, the executive officer of the committee, said a seven member court is still hearing appeals from the nine candidates and will make a decision within days.

“The committee has finished looking at some of the appeals and within the two or three days the decision will be made on all appeals. As far as I know, all the nine appeals will be rejected,” he said.

The conflicting accounts could not immediately be resolved. The independent electoral commission, which has been providing information about the court, said only that the appeals were still pending.

Several deadlines to announce a final decision on the status of the nine candidates have not been met, and the courts — whose members are anonymous — do not release decisions publicly.

On Sunday, U.S. ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill told reporters that he believed the commission had completed its work and the issue of the nine other candidates would be dropped.

“We have a genuine expectation that the Accountability and Justice Commission has concluded its work and that we will not see further movement on that,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate about the courts except to tell you there seems to be an emerging consensus that it’s not going to move on.”

The decision on the nine candidates has been one of the factors delaying the final certification of the election results, in addition to a recount for Baghdad demanded by al-Maliki, which election officials say is set to be completed by Friday.

Iraq’s political factions are only now starting to move forward on negotiations to form a new government after more than two months of deliberations over the results.

Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition has agreed to join forces with the Shiite religion hard-line Iraqi National Alliance, a move that leaves it just four seats short of the necessary majority.

Insurgents have taken advantage of the political vacuum and carried out a number of dramatic strikes, including a string of attacks Monday across 10 cities in Iraq that killed at least 119.

On Wednesday, three people were killed and 23 were wounded in northwest Baghdad when a booby-trapped body exploded near a grocery store.

A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said the body was left near the shop in the neighborhood of Shula and exploded after people gathered around.


Associated Press Writers Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

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