Baghdad, Iraq An Iraqi court has ruled that some of the most prominent Sunni Muslims who were elected to parliament last week won't be allowed to serve because officials suspect that they were high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Knight Ridder has obtained a copy of the court ruling, which has yet to be circulated to the public.
The ruling is likely to dampen Bush administration hopes that the election would bring more of the disaffected Sunni minority into Iraq's political process and undermine Sunni support for the insurgency. Instead, the decision is likely to stoke fears of widening sectarian divisions in a nation already in danger of descending into civil war.
Adil al-Lami, the chief electoral official of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, told Knight Ridder that he would honor the court's decision and that none of the accused Sunnis would appear on the final list of parliament members.
The commission is still counting ballots and said it would have the final list of winners sometime next month.
But preliminary results showed that some of the prominent Sunni politicians on the list had likely won seats. Among those who could lose their seats are Adnan al-Janabi, the second-highest ranking member of the constitutional committee and a top candidate on U.S.-backed former prime minister Ayad Allawi's slate, and Rasem al-Awadi, a National Assembly member and also on Allawi's slate. Five members of the Iraqi Accord Front, the principal Sunni electoral slate, also were on the list.
Saleh Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician, said that the ruling would agitate already frustrated Sunnis who are questioning the validity of the elections.
"The streets will tell you their reaction," Mutlaq said.
A month before the Dec. 15 election for a 275-member parliament, Iraq's de-Baathification committee submitted 185 names of suspected Baathists and told the electoral commission that they should not be allowed to run, al-Lami said.
One of the electoral commission rules states that "someone who had reached a certain membership level in the hierarchy of the dissolved Baath Party" cannot be a candidate unless he or she renounces that membership.
After the commission approached them, some slates voluntarily removed candidates, but the commission didn't force everyone to withdraw, al-Lami said. Instead, they allowed the candidates to run, saying that the committee did not present any evidence against the suspected Baathists.
The de-Baathification committee filed a complaint, and in a ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with it, saying that the electoral commission should have respected the committee's findings. The court called the commission's refusal to remove all the accused Baathists "mysterious, baseless and arbitrary."
"The de-Baathification committee is exclusively responsible for determining who can be a candidate," said Judge Amer Jawdat al-Naeb, the head of the three-judge panel that issued the ruling. "The decision of the (electoral commission) was unclear, and all their measures were wrong. They interfered in the work of the de-Baathification committee."
Al-Lami said the electoral commission had legal justification for refusing to remove the names, but didn't explain his position. "We will apply the law even though we are not convinced by it," he said.