Iraqi politicians are barring 500 candidates from participating in the upcoming March elections, citing de-Baathification laws that ban anyone affiliated with Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from returning to the government. The long list includes many prominent Iraqi politicians, most notably Saleh al-Mutlaq, who leads the popular Sunni party, Front for National Dialogue. Gregg Carlstrom reports the list also includes the current Defense Minister and three judges who would otherwise hear appeals form banned politicians. The move has Iraq analysts extremely worried, as de-Baathification largely targets minority Sunnis, who already feel excluded from government and whose boycott of the 2005 elections was followed by years of bloody sectarian conflict. How bad is this?

  • Major Step Backwards For Iraqi Democracy The Guardian's Ranj Alaaldin worries that this looks like "a sinister anti-Sunni campaign in anticipation of the coming elections." He writes, "It is no surprise then that Sunni officials consider this another plot by the Shia-dominated government to outmanoeuvre and marginalise the Sunnis, who this time round are expected to come out and vote en masse and, therefore, threaten the dominance of Iraq's other major groups." Even if the ban is ended, "the saga has already hurt the process of national reconciliation, imperative for long-term stability and US withdrawal plans, and as a result the damage may have already been done."
  • Democratic 'Failure' Risks Sectarian Conflict Iraq analyst Reidar Vissar sees shades of 2005, a terrible year in Iraq's history. "It is hard to describe this development as anything than other than complete system failure in the new democracy in Iraq. Almost inevitably, the atmosphere of the elections will now turn into a repeat of December 2005, with escalating rhetoric that can easily turn sectarian," Vissar writes. "Mutlak has played a constructive role in Iraqi politics since 2005; the sudden allegation of dangerous Baathist revival plans simply smacks of panic on the part of his political opponents and involvement by forces outside Iraq." Those forces, says Vissar, are chiefly Iranian.
  • Democracy Is A Learning Process IraqPundit says the move, though "stupid" and likely to incite anger and violence, is just part of the learning curve. "Most I talked with said it was a supremely stupid deicsion, but it will not ultimately derail the elections," he writes. "In the end while the move shows amazing stupidity on the government's part, it also shows what it's like to be a country learning about democracy. People get that democracy is about protecting minorities, but they have to learn that it is also about choice. Unfortunately it appears to be taking longer than many of us had hoped."
  • Reveals, Exacerbates Ethnic Divisions Al-Jazeera's Hoda Hamid calls this "the new democratic Iraq where ethnicity and religious sects prevail over political programs and manifestos." Of the Baath ban, "surprise, surprise, most of those barred are Sunnis." Hamid writes, "In 2004 and 2005, the Sunnis were blamed for boycotting the elections and not wanting to participate in the new Iraq. Now they want to participate but might very well be not allowed to do so in the name of debaathification, a witch hunt."
  • De-Baathification: Decade's #3 Blunder The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes in Newsweek that the original U.S. "De-Baathification" program of banning Baath officials was the #3 blunder of the decade. "Written with input from Ahmad Chalabi and other exiles who promised that U.S. troops would be greeted with flowers, Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 1 didn't just ban high-level Baathists from top government jobs. It prevented tens of thousands of Iraqis who were low-level party members--people who had joined to avoid police harassment or secure college admission for their children--from returning to their jobs in factories, in schools, in hospitals." Along with dissolving the Iraqi army, it "did more than anything else to transform the U.S. effort to rebuild the country into a bloody, chaotic mess."