Six winning candidates in Iraq elections will be stripped of their votes and lose their seats – which would cost secular politician Iyad Allawi's bloc its narrow victory – if a federal court upholds a broad purge of candidates who are suspected of past involvement with the late dictator Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party, Iraqi officials said Monday.
The six winners are among 52 candidates who were disqualified just before the March 7 elections by Iraq's Accountability and Justice Commission, the controversial government body charged with "de-Baathification" efforts. Iraq's election commission allowed them to run, choosing to shelve the divisive matter rather than delay the elections. An Iraqi court will have at least two weeks to rule on the challenge.
'It's unfair to the voters'
If it succeeds, the effort to deny Allawi his bloc's slim victory could threaten hopes that the elections would pave the way to a new unity government, ease secular and ethnic tensions, and open the way for the Obama administration to speed the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq as it sends more to Afghanistan.
The latest push to disqualify the candidates comes after Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won a narrow victory over incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's State of Law coalition. At least three of the winning candidates are on Allawi's slate, so Iraqiya would lose its two-seat lead over Maliki's bloc if a federal court sided with the Accountability and Justice Commission to strike the votes rather than removing the candidates and allowing substitutes from the same bloc to take the seats.
"The votes will be completely canceled, and it's unfair to the voters," said Muhannad al Kinani, the head of Ayn-al-Iraq, an independent Iraqi election-monitoring group. "It's partly the fault of the candidates and the political entity to which they belong – which should've known the requirements and refrained from nominating ineligible candidates – and partly the fault of the lawmakers who have failed to enact a law to regulate the formation of political parties."
Purge of 400 politicians widely criticized
The 52 in question were replacement candidates for politicians who were banned from running in an earlier purge of more than 400 people, a move that received intense US and international criticism because it occurred largely without due process and was overseen by politicians who were also running in the election. The US military and American Embassy officials were among the critics; Iraqis in charge of de-Baathification accused the Americans of meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation.
De-Baathification is overseen by Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite Muslim former Iraqi exile leader and US favorite who's now friendlier with Iran and won 20,436 votes and a seat in parliament, and Ali Faisal al Lami, who got 989 votes and didn't win a seat, according to the official results. Lami spent a year in a US-run prison before he was released without charges in August 2009.
Last month, Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq, said that both men are "clearly influenced by Iran" and have been in close contact with the top Iraqi adviser to the commander of the Quds Force, the special forces arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Lami and Chalabi denied acting on Tehran's orders and called Odierno's remarks "baseless."
"As a constitutional commission, we are charged with making sure that no one who is a Baathist, carries Baathist ideology or is a propagandist for Baathist ideology will ever rise to power, either by becoming a member of the Council of Representatives or by holding public office," Lami said Monday. "We will stop them _ even if they are under the dome of the parliament."
Also Monday, two car bombs exploded in the southern Shiite holy city of Karbala, killing five people and wounding more than 50, Iraqi authorities said. One of the blasts occurred near a busy shopping center; the other bomb targeted a popular restaurant near a government building.
(McClatchy special correspondent Qassim Zein contributed to this article from Najaf, Iraq.)