In this Jan. 20 photo, an Iraqi man in Najaf, south of Baghdad, walks past posters for Iraqi lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani, a Sunni politician who had been barred from running in the March 7 parliamentary election because of alleged ties to the Baath Party. The Arabic says, "No return for the Baathists." An Iraqi appeals court Wednesday suspended the ban on hundreds of candidates for suspected ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, allowing them to run in the election.
In this Jan. 20 photo, an Iraqi man in Najaf, south of Baghdad, walks past posters for Iraqi lawmaker Dhafir al-Ani, a Sunni politician who had been barred from running in the March 7 parliamentary election because of alleged ties to the Baath Party. The Arabic says, "No return for the Baathists." An Iraqi appeals court Wednesday suspended the ban on hundreds of candidates for suspected ties to Saddam Hussein's regime, allowing them to run in the election. Alaa al-Marjani/AP
An Iraqi appeals court Wednesday overturned a move to disqualify some 500 candidates in next month's parliamentary elections because of their alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
The court said that those on the banned list will be allowed to run in the election, but those who win seats will not be permitted to take office until their links to the former regime have been fully examined.
The controversy over the Baathists raises questions about who else is being allowed to run for office.
Many in Iraq, especially Sunni Arabs, view the attempt to ban the candidates as a way for the Shiite-dominated government to keep new emerging powers from gaining ground in the upcoming elections.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice — the body that compiled the list — does not have clear authority and mainly targeted candidates from the two largest secular coalitions. They are both expected to do well on March 7.
Veteran Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlak, who had been on the banned list, told NPR in a interview this week that the commission targeted him because the current crop of elected officials is afraid of losing power.
"They are scared because most of them, they either don't even have the qualifications to be a parliamentary member or they are corrupted financially, or their hands are not clean from the Iraqi blood. So they know that the coming government is going to go after them, and there will be a law if there is a decent government, and the law will follow them," Mutlak says.
Installed in 2005, the current Parliament was in office during the worst of the sectarian violence in Iraq.
Mutlak and others say that its focus on the Baath Party is a way of covering up its own misdeeds. "They want to create the fear among people and sectarianism among people in order to have more seats in the Parliament," he says.
Some Iraqi analysts say that by focusing on candidates with Baathist ties, Iraq is ignoring its more recent past.
One man tipped as a possible candidate for prime minister is Shiite politician Bayan Jabr, who headed the Interior Ministry during the sectarian bloodletting. Under his stewardship, men in police uniform abducted hundreds of Sunnis who were never seen alive again.
"It was on [Jabr's] watch in 2005, when he was appointed, that these death squads were organized and sent out throughout the city to terrorize people, especially in mixed neighborhoods and in Sunni neighborhoods," says Joost Hiltermann, an Iraq analyst for the International Crisis Group. "This man has a clear past and he should be made to account for it."
Jabr was once leader of the Badr Brigade, the feared Iranian-trained Shiite militia. Now, he is finance minister and a senior member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, one of Iraq's largest Shiite parties.
Many Sunni candidates also carry the baggage of their complicity in the post-invasion bloodshed.
But Hiltermann says the sectarian situation is still precarious and no one wants to focus on Iraq's recent history. "The civil war was an entirely different matter, and that involved members of all the political parties that are in power today, and I think that explains the amnesia," he says. "There is really no desire to rekindle those flames because if there is an attempt to settle the accounts for the civil war of 2005 to 2007, you may well get a new civil war."
On the streets of Baghdad, Iraqis say they want to see new faces in government. Rahee Ahmed says there is an appetite for accountability.
"Of course, Bayan Jabr has a bad reputation, I believe that he should be barred from participating in the elections, but who will bar him? He is supported by senior officials in the government. Nobody can touch him," he says.
Ahmed says these people are still a law unto themselves and sees little prospect of the elections changing that.