Leila Fadel
Washington Post
January 21, 2010

Baghdad — Alarmed that the disqualification of hundreds of candidates from upcoming parliamentary elections threatens to derail Iraq’s fledgling democracy, the Obama administration is dispatching Vice President Biden in hopes of defusing the looming political crisis.

[efoods]The expected visit showcases U.S. concerns that the decision to bar 511 candidates — the most prominent of whom are Sunni Arabs — could stoke sectarian violence and undermine elections as the U.S. military prepares to significantly reduce its presence here. The removal of candidates purportedly adhering to the ideals of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party could reverse efforts to bring disenfranchised Sunni communities into the fold and inflame old divisions, wiping out the security gains of the U.S. surge.

If the Americans “fail in guaranteeing democracy, they should leave right away from Iraq, because their presence means nothing,” said Saleh al-Mutlak, a prominent Sunni lawmaker now barred from running. “If they can’t protect democracy, then what are they here for?”

U.S. officials are in a precarious position as they try to soften the effort to ban supposed Baathists. They are stuck between the government they created and bolstered — a coalition of mostly sect- and ethnic-based coalitions dominated by Shiite Arabs — and politicians who have been branded as loyalists to the dictator deposed during the U.S.-led invasion.

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