An Iraqi appeals court has reinstated nine legislators whose March election wins were disqualified because of alleged Ba'athist ties.
At least seven of the accused are members of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's heavily Sunni-backed Al-Iraqiyah alliance, which won the March 7 vote with 91 seats in Iraq's 325-member Council of Representatives.
Now, their reinstatement removes another hurdle to the certification of that tally more than two months after the vote.
Last week, Iraqi election officials said they had completed a manual recount of some 2.5 million ballots cast in Baghdad to check the accuracy of the vote tally. The recount did not lead to any changes.
The vote tally has been repeatedly challenged by the second-place winner in the election, the State of Law coalition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which won 89 seats.
Al-Iraqiyah on May 17 welcomed the reinstatement of the candidates disqualified by the Accountability and Justice Committee, calling it "a victory for the Iraqi judicial system."
Vindicate Its Charges
"We warned from the beginning against any attempt to marginalize the Al-Iraqiyah list under the pretext of de-Ba'athification," said an Al-Iraqiyah spokeswoman, Maysun al-Damluji.
But the head of the Accountability and Justice Committee, Ali al-Lami, signaled today that he does not consider the battle over. "This is not the end of the road, because the appeals panel did not look into the evidence presented to them," Lami told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq.
Lami said this meant that his committee could thus pursue the case in parliament, "where it can ask the council to disqualify those covered by law No. 10 of 2008," which replaced the de-Ba'athification commission with the Accountability and Justice Committee.
He also said his committee would still make public its case against the nine legislators to vindicate its charges they had Ba'athist ties.
Similarly, a member of Iraq's Election Commission, which has supported the de-Ba'athification process, said election officials are still waiting to be formally informed of the appeal's court decision.
"We have been informed verbally but have not received a written ruling from the seven-strong [appeals] panel," Sardar Abd al-Karim told Radio Free Iraq today. He added that until written notice is forthcoming, the election committee considers the nine banned from working as legislators.
Still, for now at least, the appeals court decision appears to mark the end of one of the most controversial chapters in the March election: the banning of scores of candidates for alleged Ba'athist ties by Lami's committee.
Just ahead of the poll, the ban threatened to derail the election completely. Iraq's Sunni community saw the bans as aimed at sidelining some their strongest candidates. Many Sunni and other opposition candidates saw the banning as the work of Lami and committee Chairman Ahmad Chalabi to ensure an election victory for the Shi'ite religious parties, which share close ties with the two officials.
There also were fears the candidate bans could reignite sectarian enmities just as Iraq has emerged from the worst of the bloodshed between majority Shi'ite and minority Sunnis that followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Forming A Government
Now, as the appeals court ruling and the recount of Baghdad ballots build a strong case for considering the vote tally final, prospects are growing that the remaining legal challenges against the tally also could be swept away soon. That would allow Iraq to finally move ahead in earnest with the difficult process of forming a postelection government.
However, even as Allawi's Al-Iraqiyah now looks almost certain to retain its status as the election winner, there is no guarantee it will get the first chance to form the new government. Under Iraq's election law, the largest coalition in parliament takes the lead in proposing the new administration. As of now, that largest coalition belongs not to election-winner Allawi but to the second-place challenger and incumbent Maliki.
Maliki has strengthened his position since the election by making common cause with the Shi'ite religious party coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA). The Iran-friendly INA finished third in the election.
A key figure in the INA, radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said on May 16 that his movement would drop a veto against Maliki seeking a new term as long as Maliki met its condition that some 2,000 Sadrist prisoners be freed. Sadr had previously opposed Maliki's quest to stay on as premier, raising doubts about the stability of Maliki's newly broadened base.
But now, the onus is ever more firmly on Allawi to play catch-up even as his election victory looks almost certain to prevail. Otherwise, he risks taking a de facto second place following Iraq's election even after winning it by two seats.
written by Charles Recknagel, with agency reports