The White House sent Vice-President Joe Biden on an emergency mission to Iraq last night to avert a political crisis that threatens to derail Americas withdrawal timetable this summer. Mr Biden will try to pressure Iraqi leaders into reversing a ban on more than 500 candidates in forthcoming elections because of their in many cases very minor links with the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. Among the banned candidates are Saleh Mutlaq, a senior Sunni Muslim leader who left Saddams Baath party in 1977, as well as Abdul Qadir, the Sunni Defence Minister who once served under Saddam but has been instrumental in hunting down Sunni insurgents and militant Baathists. If they cannot stand for election, significant parts of the Sunni community may boycott the poll and hence deprive the next government of legitimacy. This in turn could trigger new sectarian violence and force the US, once again, to police Iraqi streets. Alternatively, the row over de-Baathification could lead to an election delay, requing US troops to stay in Iraq for longer. It is stated American policy not to start the main withdrawal until 60 days after the poll. President Obama has vowed to have all combat troops out of Iraq by August 31. An election delay would make that unlikely. The ballot was originally scheduled for January but had to be delayed once already because Iraqi leaders could not agree on voting rules. Mr Biden is said to have arrived in Baghdad last night under a cloak of secrecy and is expected to confer with the Iraqi President and Prime Minister as well as party leaders. The banning of 500 parliamentary candidates came as a surprise to much of the Iraqi political establishment. De-Baathification was thought to be an issue of the past and much of the political momentum in recent months had been in the direction of non-sectarian alliances, even if outright reconciliation between the sects is far off. Sunni politicians and Western diplomats are blaming the ban on two allies of Iran who control the semi-defunct De-Baathification committee set up by the Americans six years ago. One is Ahmed Chalabi, who was close to the Bush Administration but then switched allegiance to Tehran. The other is Ali Lami, an associate of Mr Chalabi who was held in an American military prison until last summer. Iraqis have tried and failed to find a way out of the crisis on their own. Ali Dabbagh, the spokesman for the Shia Prime Minister, has suggested that the banned candidates should publicly denounce the Baath party. The Baathists must condemn the crimes and failings of Saddam Husseins regime and the Baath party, he said. It will provide them with the opportunity to integrate back into Iraqi society. Many Sunnis still harbour sympathy for Saddam or at least for the Arab nationalism he stood for and refuse to denounce him. Government critics have warned that making denunciations an official requirement sets a dangerous precedent. When in power the Baath party, too, forced its enemies to denounce their beliefs publicly or face punishment. A workable compromise could come from President Talabani, a moderate Kurd on good terms with all sides. He has urged Iraqis to draw a distinction between hardcore Saddam loyalists and the many more who joined the Baath party for pragmatic reasons. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to join the party because membership was mandatory, he said. We should not be unjust with them. (The Times)