By Ray Fleming

IS it likely that US Vice President Joe Biden would fly from Washington to Baghdad for a twenty-four hour visit to discuss “ “general diplomatic relations between the two countries”? After all, there are quite a few urgent things going on in Washington at the moment . But that is what inquiring journalists were told yesterday by the Iraq government's spokesman, Ali Dabbagh. Those who suggested the visit might have had something to do with the disqualification of some 500 Sunni candidates at the impending elections in Iraq were assured that Mr Biden had told prime minister Maliki that he had no wish to “interfere with Iraq's legal and constitutional process.” In fact, of course, this matter is not just an Iraqi business. The disqualifications threaten the legitimacy of the March 7 elections and any delay or doubt about them would affect the first major withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq which is due to be completed by the end of August.

The elections have already been delayed on other grounds and the United States will want “free and fair” voting to take place as soon as possible. The disqualifications are said to be of Sunni candidates with past links to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party. But it is depressing to see a different name from the past with a hand in this matter -- that of Ahmed Chalabi, once Washington's favourite Iraq exile but long since discredited and now linked to the organisation responsible for the vetting of candidates.

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