Reporting from Baghdad — The Iraqi commission charged with removing former members of the outlawed Baath Party from office announced Thursday a sweeping purge of Iraq's security forces, in a move likely to heighten political tensions before national elections next month.
Ali Lami, executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission, said he had sent the names of 580 members of the security forces to the Ministries of Defense, Interior and National Intelligence. He said the individuals should be removed from their posts because of alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Some on the list are senior officers credited with helping restore security to Iraq over the last few years, including the highly respected Gen. Aboud Qanbar, who oversaw Baghdad during the U.S. troop buildup in 2007-08. Qanbar now is second in command of the army.
"Whether he is a success or not, he is still a Baathist," Lami said, adding that any minister that refused to carry out the commission's instructions would face court action.
The commission has already stirred controversy by barring hundreds of mostly secular and Sunni Arab candidates from running in the March 7 vote based on allegations that they had Baathist ties. The decision has cast a shadow over elections that the U.S. had hoped would be inclusive enough to stabilize the country and allow U.S. troops to withdraw.
The removal of hundreds of senior officers at a politically sensitive time risks further destabilizing Iraq by undermining the security forces that have been carefully built up by the U.S. military.
The commission's announcement Thursday came as the most prominent of the barred candidates, Sunni legislator Saleh Mutlak, reversed his decision to call on his supporters to boycott the election. Mutlak told reporters that he had changed his mind because he "did not want to be the reason the Sunni people lose."
Lami, of the accountability commission, also announced that he had forwarded to criminal prosecutors evidence that Mutlak had been financing and supporting a "terrorist" group's activities in Baghdad.
Times staff writers Raheem Salman and Usama Redha contributed to this report.