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'Iraq could sink into violence'
Al Jazeera talks to an Iraqi lawmaker banned from running in upcoming elections.
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2010 12:13 GMT

Al-Ani was banned from upcoming elections because of alleged links to the Baath Party [EPA] 

On January 14, more than 500 candidates were banned from running in Iraq's second parliamentary elections since Saddam Hussein was removed from power by US-led forces in 2003.

The ban came from the National Committee for De-Baathification, a post-war body established to remove former Baath Party members from government, the military forces and parliament. The ban was upheld by a panel of Iraqi judges.

Although 149 of the banned politicians appealed to Iraq's Supreme Court to rescind the Committee's decision, only 28 appeals were successful. 

Dhafir al-Ani, one of the most prominent Iraqi lawmakers, was among those whose appeals were rejected; the ban on him has now become final and can no longer be appealed.

Prior to 2003, al-Ani was a professor of political science at Baghdad University. He entered politics in 2005 when he won a seat in the post-war parliament. In 2006, he became the speaker of al-Tawafuq opposition bloc, the biggest Sunni Arab bloc in the Iraqi parliament. In 2008, he founded the National Future Bloc.

He is known to be an outspoken opponent of the current government and has expressed his views on TV talk shows, debates and in op-ed columns. 

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Janabi spoke with al-Ani by phone.

Al Jazeera: Why were you banned?

Dhafir al-Ani:
It was definitely because of my views. I have always criticised the government's performance and its lack of professionalism. They do not want people who care about Iraq as a home country to be part of the political process; they just want people to serve their plans.

The pretext about me having links to the Baath party is just a cover. They know that I was not a Baath party member.

The decision to ban you was approved by the Supreme Court; the court must have found enough evidence to uphold the ban.

The De-Baathification Committee, which is in charge of eliminating Baath party members from the Iraqi state, thoroughly reviewed the files of each and every politician back in 2005, just prior to the first elections in post-Saddam Iraq.

If I and my other colleagues were Baath party members, we would have been excluded there and then. Let us also not forget that the sensitivity against Saddam and the Baath Party was thousands of times stronger five years ago, so again if I had the slightest affiliation with the Baath Party, I would not have been in parliament for the past few years.

But it is not only about being a Baath Party member; it is also about sympathising with the Baath Party.

Anyone who does not agree with the ruling coalition is branded "the enemy" - the Baath Party. It is as simple as that.

What impact will the ban of more than 300 politicians have on the upcoming elections?

We are really worried the country would sink again into the vicious circle of violence. Religious extremists might use the ban as a pretext to prove their point of view was correct.

Al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, has already issued a statement saying his organisation will attack electoral stations. Jaish al-Mujahideen, an Islamist armed opposition group has issued a fatwa saying the coming parliamentary election are illegitimate.

We are concerned that the banning would give armed groups a boost in people's eyes. They have a stronger case now. Their argument about fighting the government because it is not democratic as it claims has become stronger. It would be very dangerous if those groups managed to plunge Iraq into the bloodshed of a few years ago.

The coming election has been seen as a wonderful opportunity for many Iraqis to restore their patriotic fervour and to rid themselves of sectarian and ethnic fanaticism. We were the only nationalist, secular coalition that represents Iraq as whole.  

The offices and headquarters of banned politicians including yourself, have been bombed in the past few days. Who do you believe to be behind those attacks?

I do not have solid information about the perpetrators, but let us see who has enough motives to do that. It is obvious nearly all of those who were banned from running for the elections are somehow either opposed to or not in favour of Iranian influence in Iraq, so either Iran or pro-Iran parties could have carried out these attacks.

It could also be the work of al-Qaeda and extreme armed opposition groups who do not believe in the political process and issued statements that they will target the electoral organisations and parties involved.

Recent media reports suggested that the US is pressuring Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister to lift the ban. Why do you think the Americans would follow such a course of action?

I do not have any idea about this, but I can say if the decision to ban me and my colleagues becomes definite and all efforts fail, then the Americans will be forced to wave with white flag and surrender to the Iranians.

As I mentioned before, the common factor between almost all of those who were banned is they are not in favour of growing Iranian influence in Iraq. If we are out, then the coming parliament and government will be exclusively Iranian - as in, loyal to Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, the Iranian president, said in his speech on the recent anniversary of the Iranian revolution that Baath Party members should not be allowed in the political process in Iraq. That shows how much the Iranians are comfortable to speak about Iraq's internal issues.

They already deal with Iraq as if it were an Iranian province, and if the little bit of opposition we represent is gone, then I assure you Iran will swallow Iraq completely in the near future.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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