Editor's Note: Read updates on the JAC ban: February 25, 2010.

In a continuation of an increasingly politicized and confusing saga, the decision of the ad hoc appeals committee that ordered the conditional unbanning of alleged former Baathists has been reversed. On February 3 the committee ruled that the banned individuals should be allowed to participate in the elections, but that all cases would be reviewed after the elections to determine whether the allegations were valid. This raised the possibility that some elected candidates would not be allowed to take their seats.

The unbanning provoked a storm of protest particularly by the predominant Shia parties, which insisted that Baathists could not be allowed to run. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party in particular organized a number of demonstrations around Iraq to protest the decision. Responding to the outcry and to political pressures, the ad hoc committee backtracked. Claiming that it had originally misunderstood its mandate as requiring it to examine all banning cases, rather than just those of the 177 individuals who appealed the ban, it revoked the blanket unbanning and announced that it would review all appeals by February 11 to decide who is eligible to run. At the same time the election commission announced that the election campaign, originally scheduled to start on February 8, would start instead on February 12.

The saga of the banning and unbanning of alleged Baathists has cast a pall on the elections even before the campaign starts in earnest. The final ruling of the review committee will probably not put the issue to rest completely. It is bound to be highly controversial, no matter what it decides, particularly in the case of high profile candidates. Above all, a decision to maintain the ban on Saleh al-Mutlaq risks reviving threats of an election boycott by his allies in the Iraqi National Movement and by some Sunni parties. The decision to let him run would enrage Shia parties and possibly put Maliki at a disadvantage vis-à-vis his adversaries in the Iraqi National Alliance.