Iraqi secular party to boycott election over Tehran influence

 

A KEY secular party has announced it will not contest Iraq’s March 7th election because its leader and many members were barred from standing.

Saleh al-Mutlaq, head of the National Dialogue Front, was banned for allegedly expressing support for the ousted Baath Party. He decided to boycott the poll following comments made last week by US commander in Iraq Gen Ray Odierno who accused Iran of using its influence with the powerful Shia-run de-Baathification panel to exclude nearly 500 candidates.

Mr Mutlaq said the electoral process is being conducted according to Iran’s dictates “which means [the Iranians] choose who they want to win and ban who they want. So it’s a fixed election. Why should we give it legitimacy?”

Mr Mutlaq, a secular Sunni, had formed a coalition with Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister and secular Shia who heads the Iraqiya party. Analysts argued that the coalition might have attracted enough votes to challenge the dominant Shia sectarian parties, Dawa of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), both closely linked to Tehran. Having formed a common front in Iraq’s first post-war election, these parties are now fighting each other. Secular Iraqis had hoped the Mutlaq-Allawi coalition would be in a position to choose a new prime minister and president who would restore Iraq’s secular character.

While Mr Mutlaq did not call upon secularists and Sunnis to boycott the election as in 2005, he urged other parties to withdraw. So far, the National Council for Tribes of Iraq, said it would do so. Other Sunni and tribal parties which did well in last year’s provincial elections are likely to stay in the race but many secularists and Sunnis may not vote. Having suspended campaigning until Mr Mutlaq’s fate was sealed, Iraqiya launched its appeal to voters on Saturday.

The disqualification of hundreds of candidates was highly controversial. The de-Baathification panel is headed by Ahmad Chalabi and Ali al-Lami, Shia candidates standing for the SIIC.

The US initially called on the Iraqi election commission to allow all candidates to stand and disqualify only winners with Baathist connections. But when this was rejected, US ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill set the disqualification issue aside. The Obama administration’s main interest is getting 100,000 US troops out of Iraq.