|The Iraqi Sunni community heavily favoured the Iraqiya coalition headed by Iyad Allawi, the
former premier, who ran on a secular and nationalist platform [EPA]
The decision of Iraq's Justice and Accountability Committee (Jac) to bar six winning candidates of the Iraqiya coalition from sitting in parliament has re-ignited the debate about the body's involvement in the country's political affairs.
The committee, which is charged with preventing former members of the outlawed Baath party from returning to public life, had said earlier this week that the six candidates should have never been allowed to run for election; Jac officials said they would appeal to seek to have them barred from parliament.
The Iraqiya coalition, led by former premier Iyad Allawi, won the highest number of seats in the March 7 election.
Further exacerbating tensions, the committee's two most senior officials, Ahmed Chalabi and Ali al-Lami were candidates for the Iraqi National Alliance bloc, which came in third in the election held on March 7.
Some Iraqi politicians have charged that Jac has been acting as both "judge and jury" and enforcing decisions taken well beyond its administrative mandate.
Haidar al-Mulla, the spokesman for the Iraqiya coalition, says Jac has used its influence to bar Chalabi's and al-Lami's political rivals. He joined other politicians who argued that the presence of Chalabi and al-Lami - both electoral candidates on March 7 - on the commission was a conflict of interest.
"The fact that Jac is headed by candidates is a shame. It is an insult to Iraq's legal heritage," he told Al Jazeera.
But al-Lami, Jac's CEO, strongly defended his committee's actions as well as his candidacy.
"Iraqi law has defined the criteria which an Iraqi national has to meet to run for the elections, and also the restrictions that would prevent said person from running as a candidate. To be the head of Jac is certainly not among those restrictions, so why should I not run for the elections?" he said.
|Nearly 62 per cent of eligible voters headed to the polls despite security threats [REUTERS]
Still, legal experts who have spoken to Al Jazeera said that a clear distinction needs to be made between judicial bodies and administrative committees.
They say the controversy has brought into focus Iraq's judicial process and questioned its independence and impartiality.
Sbah al-Mukhtar, the president of the Arab Lawyers Association, said: "The reason for choosing judicial staff is to ensure neutrality and transparency."
"Since the election is one of the means to achieve democracy, the fact that Mr Chalabi and Mr al-Lami are candidates, contradicts the principles of independence and neutrality required of any judicial body in charge of qualifying electoral candidates," he added.
Al-Mulla went further in his criticism and said the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of candidates and the clash of interests in Jac mirrored similar tactics used by Iranian authorities to keep political rivals at bay.
"Just as the Assembly of Experts in Iran oversees the democratic and political scene in Iran and decides who is in and who is out, the Jac backed by the government is trying to do the same thing. They are wrong; maybe that system suits Iran, but not Iraq," al-Mulla said.
Nevertheless, al-Lami insists that nothing extra-judicial has taken place in Iraq and that Jac was impartial, even though most of the barred candidates belonged to rival coalitions.
He explained that the 511 candidates who were barred from running as candidates weeks before the March 7 elections had the right of appeal in court. Although 149 of the banned politicians appealed to Iraq's Supreme Court to rescind the Committee's decision, only 28 bans were overturned.
"This time we are following the same procedures with the six winning candidates ... After reviewing the names of the winners of the election, we found that there are six ... who were allowed by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to run in the election," al-Lami said.
Dhafir al-Ani, an Iraqi former MP who was one of hundreds barred from running in the March 7 elections, rejected al-Lami's claims of impartiality and said that the Jac's actions have been suppressive.
"It is true we filed an appeal, but no one talked to us. We did not stand before a judge. We were not able to present a proper defence. Some panel they call an Appeal Body took the decision to uphold Jac's recommendation behind closed doors," al-Ani said.
"What sort of a court is that?"
Conflict of interests
|Al-Haidari, the chairman of IHEC, distanced himself from Iraq's latest political turmoil
Al-Ani blamed the Independent High Electoral Committee (IHEC) for carrying out decisions issued by an administrative body, headed by candidates running for the elections.
Faraj al-Haidari, the head of IHEC distanced his organisation from the political controversy.
"We are no part of that political row. Jac is a body based on the Justice and Accountability Law approved by the parliament. The committee's work is guarded by three members of parliament and a panel of seven judges," he said.
"However, it may be useful to point out that this committee had been disbanded by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister; we received a letter in that regard days before March 7 elections."
Al-Mulla finds al-Haidari's statements peculiar; he questions how the IHEC accepted Maliki's ruling to disband Jac - a body formed by parliament. He says only a parliamentary resolution could therefore disband Jac.
Challenges facing democracy
The political wrangling has highlighted the challenges Iraq's fledgling democracy faces. As Iraq has no post-Saddam institutional foundation to fall back on, even semantics have become contentious issues.
According to the constitution, the coalition with the largest bloc will be asked to form a government within 30 days of the election results being federally ratified.
Earlier this week, hoping to outmanoeuvre Allawi, Maliki called on the Supreme Court to define the meaning of the word "bloc". The Court's definition - that the largest bloc is not necessarily one formed prior to the election but could be established following the results - gave Maliki a boost in his efforts to thwart Allawi.
The decision also seemed to hint that even the Supreme Court was now influencing the election outcome.