BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threw his support Saturday behind a decision to ban about 500 candidates from participating in Iraq’s upcoming elections despite an outcry from the mostly Sunni and secular parties that are affected.
The ban has triggered a deepening political crisis ahead of the crucial election, to be held in March.
The decision by the Accountability and Justice Commission to bar the candidates has revived Sunni-Shiite sectarian tensions, called into question the Iraqi government’s commitment to reconciliation and cast doubt over the likely inclusiveness of an election that U.S. officials are hoping will stabilize Iraq enough for U.S. troops to return home.
Al-Maliki said in a statement that the commission’s rulings must be respected “without exception” and cautioned against “the politicization” of a process intended to weed out former supporters of the outlawed Baath Party, which ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
But opponents of the ban charge that the process is politicized because the Accountability and Justice Commission is headed by two men who are leading candidates with the main Shiite coalition.
The commission’s chairman, Ahmad Chalabi, and its executive director, Ali Lami, are both candidates for the Iraqi National Alliance, the Shiite grouping of mostly religious parties, which includes al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party.
Al-Maliki’s support of the ban offers the clearest indication yet that it will likely be upheld, despite intense pressure from the United Nations to reach a compromise.