Meanwhile, back in Iraq, things are getting downright dicey. The Sunni-Shiite feud that once lay dormant has been reignited after a government panel barred more than 500 candidates, many of them Sunni, from the ballot in the March 7 elections. The Sunnis see that move as an effort to deny them a voice in government, and there is every reason to believe they are right. Secular Shiites who might draw votes from religious-based Shiite parties are also among those banned.
In a nightmare that never goes away, the government panel that made that controversial decision is chaired by no other than Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time darling of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Out of favor with the Americans, he has since cast his lot with the Iranians, who maintain close ties to Iraq’s Shiite religious parties.
Tom Ricks, the former Washington Post military writer and author of “Making the Corps” and “Fiasco,” his definitive history of the initial occupation of Iraq, says he received the following from a good friend in Iraq “who doesn’t scare easily.”
“I’m afraid things are coming to a tipping point here. If the Chalibi-Iranian faction succeeds in keeping those 15 pro-Alawi Sunni parties off the ballot all bets are off. I can see a Shiia-on-Shiia civil war (with the Sunnis backing the Alawi faction) or a military coup as real possibilities. At this point, the best thing to happen would be to postpone the election. If they go ahead toward March the way they are heading, all bets are off. I don’t think Washington is fully engaged with Haiti and Afghan distracting them. A lot of bad vibes here.”
Some in Iraq are trying to defuse the danger, as Liz Sly of the Los Angeles Times reports:
Iraq’s president has asked the country’s Supreme Court to rule on the legality of a ban on hundreds of candidates in the upcoming elections, offering the first official challenge to a decision that could undermine the legitimacy of the poll.
President Jalal Talabani said Thursday that he was “personally not happy” with the ban on mostly secular candidates, and questioned the authority of the committee that ordered it because its composition had not been approved by the parliament.
His comments at a news conference offered the first hint of a possible way out of a dispute that has threatened to derail the March 7 elections and polarized the country along sectarian lines.
The Obama administration is also trying to mediate the dispute, with Vice President Biden scheduled to visit Iraq soon. But Talabani, a Kurd, apparently isn’t much interested in what the Americans have to say at this point.
“We are an independent country and will not receive orders from anyone, whether it is a brotherly Arab country, a neighboring country, or a friend,” he said.
In a way that’s a sign of progress, I suppose. But I remain pessimistic that Iraq will remain a functioning democracy long-term.