- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

A leading Iraqi Sunni legislator said Thursday that parliamentary elections scheduled for January will likely be rife with fraud and intimidation unless the United Nations monitors the vote and Iraq changes its electoral laws.

Saleh al-Mutlaq also warned editors and reporters of The Washington Times that another four years of what he called sectarian Shi’ite government would damage Iraq beyond the ability of anyone to repair it.

Mr. al-Mutlaq, a secular Sunni who is aligned with former prime minister Iyad Allawi, accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, leader of the Dawa party, of being too scared of Iran to oppose its influence and too sectarian to be a good leader of Iraq.

The comments were a shift for Mr. al-Mutlaq who earlier this summer had been negotiating with Dawa to explore a Sunni-Shi’ite coalition for the upcoming elections.

“I thought it would be possible with me and Allawi for Maliki to join us,” he said. But he later added, “If I go with Maliki now, I will lose a lot of votes. People think of him as a sectarian.”

“Unless we see a change in the electoral commission and monitoring from the United Nations, the fraud will be huge,” Mr. al-Mutlaq said.

U.S. officials note that in 2008, the Iraqi prime minister led a campaign against Shi’ite extremist militias. On his orders, the Iraqi army took back control of the country’s second-largest city, Basra.

Since then, however, Mr. al-Maliki has demanded the release of a handful of Shi’ite extremist leaders captured by American forces in the last two years. He also ordered a raid on Iranian dissidents that killed at least seven members of the group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which had been under U.S. protection after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein.

“Why did he leave the banks and take police off the streets to conduct this raid?” Mr. al-Mutlaq asked.

Mr. al-Mutlaq criticized U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, as “naive” for supporting the transfer of so much authority to the al-Maliki government, even though that is mandated by an agreement reached with Iraq by the George W. Bush administration.

“We don’t want America to give us our sovereignty in order for [the al-Maliki government] to give it the Iranians,” he said.

Some Iraqi observers say Mr. al-Mutlaq is hoping to persuade the Obama administration to install him and his allies into power in Baghdad.

“Mr. Mutlaq belongs to the old school of Middle Easterners coming to Washington,” said Nibras Kazimi, an Iraq expert at the Hudson Institute. “He thinks that if he paints things bad enough, policymakers will fret and appoint him the savior of the day. He still thinks that leaders are minted at Langley [headquarters of the CIA] rather than at the ballot box.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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