(RFE/RL) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is using a visit to Baghdad today to press Iraqi officials to end a pre-election dispute that is threatening to tarnish the country’s March 7 parliamentary vote.
Biden reportedly told top Iraqi officials that the March election must be fair, credible, and transparent.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Biden made the remarks during a meeting in Baghdad today with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Biden also met with parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai and the United Nation's special representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert.
The U.S. vice president arrived in Iraq late on January 22 amid growing tensions over plans to ban election candidates because of suspected links to Saddam Hussein's regime. The White House worries the bans could raise questions about the March 7 parliamentary elections, which are seen as an important step in the U.S. troop withdrawal timetable.
The disqualification of some 500 candidates, mostly Sunnis and secular Iraqis, has led to concerns that members of Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority will feel marginalized and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the next government.
Following his meetings with Iraqi officials, Biden reiterated that the United States supports "Iraq's constitutional ban on the return to power of Saddam's Ba'ath Party."
Biden's national security advisor, Antony Blinken, said that the vice president would offer no specific proposals to resolve the controversy, but would emphasize the Obama administration's concern that the electoral process should be transparent and inclusive.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Biden had accepted that the dispute was for Iraqis to resolve.
"The issue of justice and accountability is an Iraqi issue and an internal affair which should be discussed by Iraqis,” al-Dabbagh said. “Mr Biden has confirmed to Mr. al-Maliki that this issue has to be discussed by Iraqis, and there is no role for the United States or himself."
The election is seen as a test of whether there could be lasting peace in Iraq, after a decrease in violence over recent months.
Biden is expected later today to meet with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, who has said there would be a meeting soon of Iraqi leaders to resolve the issue. His office has also asked a court to rule on the legal standing of the committee that drew up the list of candidates banned for their Ba’athist past.
Concerns Over Blackwater
During his visit, Biden also said that the U.S. government will appeal against a court decision to dismiss charges against guards from the security contractor Blackwater who were accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians, Reuters reported. Biden said that "a dismissal is not an acquittal," and that the U.S. government would lodge the appeal next week.
The U.S. federal court decision last month, which found that the defendants' constitutional rights had been violated, angered Iraqis.
Many Iraqis perceived the killing of 14 civilians in 2007 as an example of foreigners' disregard for the lives and safety of Iraqis. It also brought into question the use of private security contractors in Iraq.
With agency reports. RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq contributed to this report