Pro-West ex-Iraqi PM slams de-Baathification

BAGHDAD: Iraq's pro-Western former prime minister Iyad Allawi has denounced a commission that barred candidates allegedly linked to Saddam Hussein from elections before their disputed reinstatement on appeal.

"The integrity and justice committee is actually a secret police," Iyad Allawi, who last month unveiled a broad secular alliance of candidates to contest the war-torn country's March 7 election, told AFP in an interview.

"We don't know who these members are and how they have been appointed, or how it is financed. We know the main culprits," he said.

The integrity and accountability committee (IAC) compiled a blacklist in mid-January of 511 candidates -- accused of membership of Saddam's outlawed Baath party -- for the election, provoking anger from Sunnis and secularists.

On Wednesday, an appeal panel of seven judges decided to lift the ban until it can review the candidates' records, this time triggering outrage from Shiite parties.

The dispute, which threatens the elections seen as a test of reconciliation in Iraq, will be debated in parliament on Sunday and also be subject of a Supreme Court appeal launched by electoral authorities.

A law on integrity and justice was adopted two years ago to replace the de-Baathification committee, established by the Americans immediately after the US-led invasion of 2003.

The original de-Baathification process saw thousands of Saddam-era employees lose their jobs, before many of them joined the insurgency that followed the invasion.

"After seven years, we are talking once again about the Baath and the IAC is fabricating records, conning people," said Allawi, who was provisionally appointed premier by Washington in June 2004 and held the post for just under a year.

"Iraqis cast doubt on today's political process since the IAC launches false accusations," he charged.

"For example, the commission eliminated (Babil province first vice governor) Watut Iskander, even though he was a leader of the Shiite rebellion (against Saddam) in 1991 and lost 18 family members including two of his brothers," said the 64-year-old.

"This shows the extent of the chaos and tragedy that runs through the country."

Allawi said many members of the former de-Baathification committee were transferred to the integrity and accountability committee.

He added that Iraqi National Alliance candidate Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite who headed the committee from its foundation in 2003, is now the IAC chief as parliament failed to agree on the body's composition.

The former doctor also mocked leaders and some groups that criticise foreign intervention in Iraq's affairs.

"But the current government is responsible because it signed a security agreement with the United States and, in any case, Iraq is still under Chapter Seven of the UN," he said.

In November 2008, Baghdad and Washington signed a security agreement on the withdrawal of US troops in late 2011.

Under Chapter Seven of the UN charter which imposed crippling sanctions after Saddam's forces invaded Kuwait in 1990, Iraq could still face sanctions or even military action.

Some of the main Shiite forces on Iraq's political scene, including supporters of hardline cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's list, have criticised the United States for interfering in the row.

Washington has called for an end to the dispute while encouraging broad participation in the election.

"We reject... interference in the work of institutions and we reject actions that bring into question the principle of sovereignty and respect for the constitution," Allawi said.

Allawi's bloc has 63 political groups including Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Deputy Prime Minister Rafaa al-Issawi, a Sunni, and parliament speaker Saleh al-Mutlak, who has been excluded from the elections.