ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now to Iraq and a development that has diffused at least for now what could've been a major political crisis. An appeals court has overturned a move to disqualify nearly 500 candidates from running in next month's parliamentary elections. The candidates had been targeted because of alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. And the controversy has raised questions about other candidates in the March elections, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The attempt to ban the candidates had been viewed by many here, especially Sunni Arabs, as a way to keep emerging new powers from gaining ground in the upcoming elections. According to Human Rights Watch, the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice, a body without clear authority which came up with the list, mainly targeted candidates from the two largest secular coalitions. They are both expected to do well on March 7th.
Veteran Sunni politician Salah al-Mutlak, who had been on the banned list, told NPR in an interview this week that the commission targeted him because the current crop of elected officials are afraid of losing power.
Mr. SALAH AL-MUTLAK (Sunni Politician): They are scared because most of them, they either don't have even the qualification 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.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The current parliament was installed in 2005 and was in office during the worst of the sectarian violence here. Mutlak and others say that its focus on the Baath Party is a way of covering up its own misdeeds.
Mr. AL-MUTLAK: So they want to create the fear among people and sectarianism among people in order to have more seats in the Parliament.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some analysts here 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, hundreds of Sunnis were abducted by men in police uniform and never seen alive again.
Joost Hiltermann is an Iraq analyst for International Crisis Group.
Mr. JOOST HILTERMANN (Iraq analyst, International Crisis Group): It was Bayan Jabr. It was on his 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. This man has a clear past and he should be made to account for it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jabr was once the leader of the Badr Brigade, the feared Iranian trained Shiite militia. He's now finance minister and a senior member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, one of the 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 here and no one wants to focus on Iraq's recent history.
Mr. HILTERMANN: 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. There is really no desire to, you know, 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.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: On the streets of Baghdad, though, Iraqis say they want to see new faces in government.
Rahee Ahmed says there is an appetite for accountability.
Mr. RAHEE AHMED: (Through translator) 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.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahmed says these people are still a law unto themselves and sees little prospect of the election changing that.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
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