Joe Biden is hardly the world’s most diplomatic guy. Recall his infamous walk-out, while still a senator, from a dinner with Hamid Karzai: a gesture of pique that needlessly worsened relations with an important American ally. Nevertheless, I am glad he has gone to Iraq to try to resolve a dispute that threatens to cast into doubt the legitimacy of that country’s upcoming elections.
Iraq’s Accountability and Justice Commission has disqualified some 500 candidates from seeking election on the grounds of being “Baathists,” which, in today’s Iraq, has become an amorphous term of abuse comparable in the West to calling someone a “fascist.” Most of those affected are secular candidates who would be expected to oppose the Shiite religious alliance, the National Iraqi Alliance, made up primarily of ISCI and the Sadrists. The ban includes, among others, Saleh al-Mutlaq, a leading Sunni politician who left the Baathist Party in 1977, and the well-respected Defense Minister Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi.
What makes this whole process truly farcical is that the chairman of the Accountability and Justice Commission is none other than Ali Faisal al-Lami, a close associate of the increasingly discredited Ahmed Chalabi, who is now in alliance with the most extreme and violent Sadrists. Until last summer, Lami was in an American detention facility, charged (based on convincing intelligence) with orchestrating a bombing “that killed two American Embassy employees, two American soldiers and six Iraqis at a district council meeting in Baghdad” in 2008. Lami is hardly the kind of moral exemplar who should be ruling on anyone else’s fitness to seek office, and if his disqualifications stand, they will only reinforce a sense of grievance among the Sunni minority and among the large number of secularists of whatever sectarian persuasion — and justifiably so. I can only hope that Biden can bring enough political clout to force a resolution that would allow candidates to run for office freely regardless of their past political affiliations.