Iraq panel to bar 6 lawmakers from taking office

An Iraqi government commission said Monday that it would bar six newly elected parliament members from office, accusing them of having been members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

The move, if upheld by a panel of judges, would take away at least two seats from the secular Iraqiya list, currently the largest bloc in the upcoming parliament, and risk tainting the election results in the eyes of the many minority Sunni Arabs who voted for the slate.

If the candidates are banned, it could rob the Iraqiya bloc of its plurality in the new 325-member parliament. The candidates’ votes would be nullified and the electoral commission would reward those seats based on new electoral tallies. Iraqiya members said at least two of the six candidates the commission wants banned belong to their election slate.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article and a subheadline incorrectly stated that if the candidates are banned, it could rob the Iraqiya bloc of its majority in the new 325-member parliament. The text and subheadline should have said that such a ban could rob the Iraqiya bloc of its plurality in the new parliament.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law slate, with 89 seats to Iraqiya’s 91, stands to gain the most if the candidates are thrown out. It would weaken Maliki’s primary rival, Iyad Allawi, the head of Iraqiya and a former prime minister, in the race to lead the next government.

Ali Lami, director of the Accountability and Justice Commission charged with preventing former Baath members from returning to government, lashed out at the Independent High Electoral Commission for having allowed the candidates to run in the March 7 election.

“The IHEC behaves according to a double standard concerning the entities who are included in the de-Baathification process,” Lami said at a news conference three days after election results were announced.

Lami and the government body chaired by Shiite Muslim politician Ahmad Chalabi issued a controversial ruling in January to bar about 500 candidates from running for office, based on their Baath Party support or membership before the party was outlawed when Hussein was toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Most of the candidates were replaced.

Just before the elections, the panel ruled that 52 of the replacement candidates could not run either. The IHEC decided the announcement was too late and left the candidates on the ballot, postponing any decision until after the vote. On Monday, Lami acted, announcing that his group had asked the courts to remove six of the candidates, one of whom is in jail on terrorism charges.

Lami has been a source of controversy in the past. Arrested by U.S. forces in 2008 on suspicion of involvement in a bombing of a Baghdad district council building, he was released last summer, insisting he was innocent of all charges, including links to Shiite militias. He is close to Chalabi, the onetime darling of the Bush administration whom the Americans now accuse of having close ties to Iran’s leadership.

Both men ran in the election on a rival list to Iraqiya. Their involvement in politics and weeding out of candidates was a source of contention. Chalabi won a seat in parliament; Lami did not.

Their slate, the Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance, remains heavily involved in negotiations on forming the next government and could benefit from the weakening of Iraqiya and its candidate for prime minister, Allawi. Chalabi is seen by some analysts as a potential dark horse candidate to head the next government.

A senior Iraqiya member reacted furiously Monday, seeing the announcement as an effort to undermine the slate’s quest to assemble a coalition of 163 seats to form the next government. He warned of dire consequences if the judiciary rules in Lami’s favor and takes away Iraqiya seats.

“No doubt, if they try to isolate Iraqiya then definitely the aim of doing that is to push the country toward civil war. . . . Maybe this is the intention of Iran. They want their people to control Iraq for another four years,” said Iraqiya member Falah Naquib. “Maybe half the country or more will not accept what they are trying to do.”

Ahmed is a Times staff writer.