When top officials in Iraq's predominantly Shia government started using de-Baathification laws to ban hundreds of prominent Sunnis from the March elections, everyone got very nervous. Analysts agreed that Shia were abusing the law--meant to bar former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party from participating in government--to thwart political rivals. Worse, some feared the bans could spark a repeat of the disastrous 2005 Sunni election boycott or, worse, a repeat of sectarian violence during the Iraq War's worst years.
The White House was concerned as well. In recent days, there have been parades of Iraqi officials to Washington and parades of American officials to Baghdad. Vice President Biden and others publicly but gently pressured Iraqi leadership to drop the ban. A top Iraqi court also urged the ban's repeal.
Iraqi officials have reportedly conceded, abandoning the ban and thus ending the troubling Constitutional crisis. How did we finally secure some good news out of Iraq?
- Skillful and Respectful U.S. Diplomacy Marc Lynch says the White House did it "without compromising its commitment to the drawdown and the SOFA, while consistently being sensitive to Iraqi concerns about overt U.S. interference, and by appealing to the self-interest of Iraqi politicians that the election be viewed as legitimate by the international community. This appears to be a job well done by Obama's Iraq team, in a difficult and very sensitive context." he writes. "Once again Iraq has not unraveled, and Iraqis have figured out how to prevent their own system from collapsing around them. Quiet U.S. diplomacy, combining clear pressure for an inclusive and fair election with clear commitment to non-interference in Iraqi internal affairs and the withdrawal timeline, appears to have worked. Go figure."
- Strong, Wise Iraqi Institutions Democracy Arsenal's Michael Wahid Hanna beams, "The silver lining to this entire affair is that an Iraqi legal body appears to have stepped in to stem a political crisis and that its decision is being accorded respect by the contending actors within a highly contentious, chaotic and politicized environment." He adds, "While undoubtedly necessary for constitutional governance, the power of independent judicial review is not always self-evident. The ability of the courts to have the final say in this matter should be encouraging in that the establishment of constitutional benchmarks indicates the possibility for the emergence of the judiciary as a credible, neutral arbiter of intense political disputes."
- Competing American/Iranian Influence Iraq expert Reidar Visser is less optimistic. "Forces seen as supported by Iran launched its attack using the de-Baathification weapon; the hand of the United States is now seen by many in the recent move to reverse the exclusions. This could possibly reflect some continued American leverage in Kurdish circles and among some of the Shiite Islamists, but of course it also refers to the fact that the movers behind the exclusions have already achieved their main aim which was never exclusions per se but rather to have de-Baathification as a defining issue at the time of the elections." But he concludes more hopefully, "Not least, they may go some way towards motivating Iraqis that are critical of the current system of government to at least try to change the system from within through taking part in the 7 March elections."