The decision to reverse the ban on 500 candidates in the Iraqi election, which is being challenged by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, is the right move by Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission. Elections serve no purpose if they are seen to be manipulated, since the government that emerges from a corrupt process will not have a popular mandate. Elections must have transparent rules that are published well in advance and do not change. This allows parties to form, adopt political positions, campaign for support and form electoral alliances. Any last-minute shift in the rules necessarily corrupts this complex process.

In Iraq, the request for the ban came from Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, which was looking for a short-term advantage. Inevitably, any ban would favour Sunni Islamists and Shiites, since Saddam Hussain's Iraq was run by more secular Sunnis and any Baath links would be concentrated in that group.

In principle, it should not be possible to ban anyone with past links to the Baath Party from public life. The party was so deeply involved in Saddam's Iraq that thousands of people had to join as a matter of course. Only Baath leaders and activists should suffer banning as the new Iraq moves beyond its past.