Iraq queries legality of candidate vetting body

President Talabani opposes Iraq election ban on Baathists


Iraqi President Jalal Talabani cast doubt on Thursday on the legality of a controversial committee that has barred more than 500 candidates linked to Saddam Hussein from standing for election.

"We asked in an official letter to judge Madhat al-Mahmoud (president of the Iraqi Supreme Court) that he rule on the legality of the integrity and accountability committee," Talabani told reporters in Baghdad.

"Our question is: 'Is the organization that took this decision legal?'"

Talabani was referring to the committee that has banned 511 candidates from standing in a March 7 general election, accusing them of being members or sympathizers of the executed dictator's outlawed Baath party, Fedayeen militia or Mukhabarat intelligence network.

Prominent Sunni Arab MPs have argued that the committee has no legal basis as it has not been approved by parliament.

Support for non-Saddamist Baathist candidates

Talabani earlier voiced support for the participation of non-Saddamist Baathist candidates in Iraq's upcoming elections.

President Talabani pointed particularly to the prominent Sunni lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq, who has been banned from competing in the March poll for alleged links to Saddam Hussein's regime. Talabani said Mutlaq is a non-Saddamist Baathist and therefore has the right to run for the elections.

Iraqi vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi had submitted to President Talabani “an extremely important” document which proves the unconstitutionality of the ban imposed by the Justice and Accountability Commission (JAC), in charge of making sure that members of the Baath Party do not return to the political scene, according to a statement issued by the Hashimi media bureau.

“Very important decisions have been taken regarding this issue,” the statement said.

The commission decided earlier that the National Dialogue front, headed by former Baath member Mutalq, will not be allowed to field candidates in the parliamentary elections due to be held on March 7 for alleged ties to terrorism.

Unauthorized ban

The document submitted to Talabani states that JAC had no official authorization to ban Baathist candidates from running for the vote, Abdel Ellah Kazem, spokesman of the Hashimi media bureau told Al Arabiya.

“The commission has not been authorized yet,” he said. “It has to be approved by the presidency, cabinet, and parliamentary councils.”

Kazem added that the Presidency Council is waiting for the return of Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the other vice-president along with Hashimi, to hold an official meeting and issue a statement regarding the submitted document.

The ban, which is part of the de-Baathification process in which the Iraqi government has been engaged in since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, stirred the indignation of Iraqi Sunnis, who viewed it as an attempt to completely exclude them from the government.

But the commission defended the ban saying it is in compliance with article 7 of the Iraqi constitution which bans all political parties promoting Baathism and sectarianism and stated that the National Dialogue Front was just one out of 15 candidate lists that were rejected for the same reason.

The total number of candidates that were banned from running for the March election reached 511.

In reaction to Sunni anger about their exclusion, politicians stated that Shiites were also banned from the elections for the same reasons, their alleged ties with the Baath party.

According to the list the JAC submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI), Shiite candidates constitute more than two thirds of those excluded from the vote.

Two of the JAC members were set to run in the elections under the Iraqi National Coalition, which is controlled by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), a Shiite party originally founded in Iran.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).