In reversal, Sunni party says it will participate in elections
Lawmaker ends boycott threat, tells Iraqis to vote
BAGHDAD - A prominent Sunni lawmaker announced yesterday that his party would participate in parliamentary elections, less than a week after pulling it from the race.
The decision effectively lifts the lingering threat that minority Sunnis would boycott the vote, which the United States hopes will bolster national reconciliation efforts and pave the way for American combat forces to go home.
Lawmaker Saleh al-Mutlaq is himself banned from taking part in the election by a committee tasked with vetting candidates for ties to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. He says he quit the party in the 1970s and yanked his party from the race last Saturday to protest his being blacklisted.
At a news conference yesterday Mutlaq announced that his National Dialogue Front would contest the race, and called on Iraqis to go to the polls.
“After so many calls from our supporters, the Iraqi people, not to give others a chance to spoil our project, your brothers in the National Dialogue Front have decided to actively participate . . . in the upcoming elections,’’ he said.
But in Iraq’s hurly-burly political world, it was unclear whether Mutlaq’s reversal would significantly affect the turnout or the result.
Asked to explain his turnaround, Mutlaq replied: “We do not want to be a reason the Sunni people lose.’’
Popular Sunni opinion seemed mixed on whether Mutlaq’s decision would significantly affect the March 7 election or their decision to vote.
“Mutlaq’s group has a considerable weight in Iraq and a lot of Sunni people decided to boycott elections after the decision to bar Mutlaq, but now they are happy with this decision and they will go to the polls,’’ said Adil Naji, 55, a Baghdad resident.
But Michael Hanna, an analyst on Iraqi affairs at the Century Foundation in New York, said it was questionable whether Mutlaq’s previous decision to keep his party out of the election would have led to a wider Sunni boycott. He said after Sunnis widely boycotted the January 2005 election, they were shut out of the political process. That boycott was followed by a sharp increase in violence.
“It was such a disastrous experience that the notion of a boycott itself has lost a lot of credibility,’’ he said.
Mutlaq’s National Dialogue Front has 11 seats in the outgoing legislature, the second-largest Sunni bloc in Parliament. He fared well in last year’s provincial elections, especially in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province.
The National Dialogue Front is fielding 175 candidates in the election and is considered one of the stronger Sunni parties in the race. Other Sunni parties expected to attract votes are one led by Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a key figure in Anbar Province, and another led by Iraq’s vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi.
The decision by the Shi’ite-dominated committee to blacklist Mutlaq and hundreds of other candidates, most of them Sunnis, raised fears that Sunnis might shun the election or view the results as tainted.
The United States has tied its troop drawdown to a fair and smooth election process. An eruption of election-related violence could slow or stop the withdrawal of combat forces slated for the end of the summer.