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Joe Biden vs. Ahmed Chalabi

With everyone riveted on health care and Scott Brown and "The Girl With the Curious Hand," little attention is being paid to looming disaster in Iraq, where the Shiite-dominated government is pulling a sectarian power play in advance of the country's national election in March. Joe Biden, who has assumed control of theWhite House's Iraq portfolio, landed in Baghdad today with a seemingly good idea that is meeting resistance:

In an early effort to resolve the crisis, [Biden] suggested that the list of the disqualified be set aside until after the elections, so that only those on the list who won would have to be examined for Baathist ties, according to Iraqi officials. Many politicians said that they supported this solution, but others questioned its legality and criticized Washington for interference in Iraq’s affairs. Electoral officials have questioned the feasibility of such an idea.

It's really important that this get worked out--and soon, as ballots for the March 7 election need to be printed by roughly the end of this month, according to the WashPost. Amazingly, as this NYT editorial noted today, the a key figure behind the effort to bar certain Sunni politicians from the March ballot is none other than our old friend Ahmed Chalabi. That certainly doesn't help. When I paid a brief visit to Iraq last month, it was quite clear that Iraq's Sunnis believe that Iran is meddling with their election. The emergent role of Chalabi, who has well-documented ties to Tehran, can only inflame those fears.

What we're seeing is a premonition of a renewed civil war. And that would be an utter disaster, not just for Iraq but for America--which lacks the political will, legal authority, and sheer manpower it would require to re-stabilize the country. Let's hope Biden can work some magic in Baghdad.