Nearly seven weeks after the March 7 election in Iraq, there’s no movement at all toward creating a new government. As the August deadline for drawing down U.S forces to 50,000 troops gets closer — and even those troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011 — the influence of the United States is declining sharply, and the overt and covert influence of Iran is getting stronger.
In Washington, hawks are beginning to demand that President Obama delay the drawdown. But Obama really has no choice but to seek a deal with Iran to stabilize Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, who supported anti-Iranian politicians in the March 7 vote, would be happy to support such a deal, too, but it all depends on the United States backing off from its confrontation with Iran and trying to work out a Washington-Teheran accord.
The latest evidence of Iran’s maneuvering in Iraq: the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance and its ally, the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission (JAC), have struck again, this time disqualifying several winning candidates in the March 7 election and threatening to disqualify many others. (In January, you’ll recall, the Commission barred more than 500 candidates from the ballot on spurious charges that they were members or supporters of the Baath Party, the former Arab nationalist party that was a powerful force in pre-2003 Iraq, going back to the 1950s.)
In all, the JAC ousted 52 candidates, including victorious candidates. As Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times reports:
“The 52 had been last-minute substitutes for other candidates, who also had been barred from running in the March 7 elections due to their alleged connections to the former ruling Baath Party.
“Just days before the vote, the country’s Accountability and Justice Commission, which screens candidates for ties to the Baath Party, announced the names of the 52 substitute candidates who it said should be banned. But Iraq’s electoral commission ruled that their cases would be decided after the balloting.
“A three-judge panel on Monday threw out their candidacies, a move that could further polarize the political process.”
In Iraq, when you “polarize the political process,” people load their guns. Already, last week, the recently quiescent Sadrist militia, the Mahdi Army, threatened to mobilize its forces after a series of bombings struck the Sadrists’ Friday prayer gatherings in Baghdad.
One of the candidates barred was Saleh al-Mutlaq, the leader of an independent-minded Iraqi nationalist bloc, who formed a coalition with Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister. When Mutlaq failed to get the ban lifted last February, he asked his brother, Ibrahim al-Mutlaq, to run in his place. Now, the Commission, led by Ali al-Lami and Ahmed Chalabi and strongly supported by Iran, has barred Ibrahim al-Mutlaq as well.