Iraqi government is harassing winning candidates, Sunnis say

By Leila Fadel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 2, 2010; A10

BAGHDAD -- In a sign of hardening sectarian divisions, the secular, largely Sunni-backed bloc that won the most seats in Iraq's recent parliamentary elections says its victorious candidates are being subjected to a campaign of detention and intimidation by the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Maliki's State of Law coalition lost by two seats to Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc; the prime minister has been contesting the results of the March 7 vote, saying they are fraudulent. State of Law has appealed the outcome in Iraq's courts and now, Allawi's bloc says, Maliki is using state security forces in a bid to gain enough seats to emerge the winner.

This week, at least two winning Iraqiya candidates in the capital were told they are wanted, bloc officials and the candidates said. Two others are on the run in the mixed Sunni-Shiite province of Diyala, and another was detained before the elections.

Sunni Arabs see the win by Allawi, a secular Shiite, as their own. Many Iraqis and analysts worry that Sunnis will feel cheated if Allawi loses his lead before the new parliament is certified, a development that could spark retaliatory violence just as U.S. troops are drawing down to a mandated 50,000 by summer's end.

One security forces commander confirmed that orders to carry out such detentions must have approval from the highest level of government and said he worries that he is being used for political ends. The commander, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, said he was told last week to arrest a winning candidate from Allawi's list on charges of terrorism -- charges he said he knew were unfair.

"I'm in a situation that no one would envy," he said. "I'm wondering why didn't they arrest him and try to detain him before."

In the southern Baghdad district of Madain, Qais al-Jubouri, who won a seat March 7, left his home late Monday night after receiving a summons to go to the local Iraqi commander's office. Jubouri, a tribal sheik who had helped form a Sunni Arab paramilitary group at the U.S. behest to battle the insurgency, knew it was not good news.

For more than three years, he had worked with the Iraqi and U.S. militaries and the Iraqi government to foster reconciliation between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs in volatile Madain. Now he faces an arrest warrant on terrorism charges in a case that was solved years ago, military officials and Jubouri said. On Tuesday, he said, his house was raided and his sons were photographed. He is afraid to return home.

"They are tracking us because we won," Jubouri said Wednesday. "I wonder why now I'm wanted by the law. My tribe, my cousins and I saved the law in my area."

Kadhim al-Attiyah, another winning Iraqiya candidate in the capital, is also on the run. This week, military officers told him to leave his home in southern Baghdad. He asked if the government had something against him. He recalled that the officers answered cryptically, "Sure, something is coming."

"We will be chased as long as power is in the hand of a person who belongs to another bloc," Attiyah said Wednesday. "We will not feel safe until the new government is formed and the parliament members are sworn in."

A losing Iraqiya candidate, Naheth Ibrahim Ahmed, was detained Wednesday in Yousifiya, on Baghdad's southern outskirts.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a top adviser to Maliki, said that the detentions have nothing to do with the prime minister and that Maliki's inability to control Iraq's electoral commission illustrates the limits of his authority.

"When will the accusations stop?" he said. "Does the prime minister have the authority to arrest anyone? He doesn't. The arrest warrants come from a judge."

It is unclear whether any of those detained committed crimes. Many Shiites worry that Allawi's bloc is a cover for criminals and former members of Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party and is funded by anti-Shiite neighboring countries.

A spokesman for the Defense Ministry denied that military officers are carrying out politically motivated warrants.

"As an army, we do not issue warrants against anyone," Mohammed al-Askari said. "We receive these warrants from the judicial system without knowing what parties they belong to or who they are."

Special correspondent Jinan Hussein contributed to this report.

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