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Iraqis OK bill to ease restrictions on Saddam's Baath members
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The long-awaited bill about easing restrictions on former members of Saddam Husseins' party as civil servant has rekindled the hope for Iraq's national reconciliation. Yet uphill tasks remain ahead to be solved by all parties in the sectarianly divided country.


The legislation, known as Accountability and Justice Law, was passed by the parliament on Saturday.


It has been pending before the parliament since March because Shiite members of parliament, particularly those who are loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, rejected the return of Baathists to public life.


The heatedly contested law will allow thousands of former Baath members to regain assess to government jobs, provided that they are innocent of crimes against the Iraqis under Saddam's regime.


A small number of senior party members, meanwhile, are still barred from returning to those posts, despite that they are entitled to get pensions, according to the 30-point new law.


A new committee will be set up to replace the former controversial De-Baathification Committee, which was tasked to purge Baath members from the government jobs, and oversee the rehabilitation process.


"If this law is implemented correctly on the ground, it will allow many Baathists to return to the public life and will curb the violence," Mahmoud Othman, a lawmaker from the Kurdish area, told Xinhua.


"I think it (the law) is a right step toward the national reconciliation in Iraq," Othman said.


A Shiite lawmaker, Hassan al-Senied who praised the bill, said that the law will pave the way for approving other laws that are essential for national reconciliation in the war-torn country.


"This law will have a dramatic impact on closing the ranks of Iraqis in this stage, so that we are look forward to approve other crucial laws," he said.


The law, which still needs the approval of Iraq's presidential council, was passed at the 275-seat parliament where only about 140 lawmakers were present for voting.


Some Sunni parties also rejected the bill. The National Dialogue Front said the law is unrealistic and inapplicable. The party complained that the law denies the return of the Baath Party, whether in ideology, policy or practice, to authority or public activities under any name.


"I name it Accountability Without Justice Law, because the accountability should include all the parties (before and after the topple of Saddam regime), not only the Baath party," said the Sunni secular politician Salih al-Mutlak, head of the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, referring to an article in the new law seen as a compromise to opponents of the law, which allows victims of the former regime to sue Baath members for their wrongdoing and claim compensation.


The Baath party was dissolved following the fall of Saddam and his followers were expelled from public services. The move fueled rifts between the Shiites and Sunnis and attributed to a heat-up of violence as some of the unemployed Baath members turned to insurgents.


Bloody head-on confrontations between the two sects seem to have eased when they are joining force to fight al-Qaida.


The Shiite-led Iraqi government has also adopted a draft bill to release tens of thousands of detainees, who are mainly Sunnis and under detention for security reasons without trial.


Yet, a long way is expected before substantial agreements can be achieved by various political and sectarian forces, which are at odds over other issues, including the control of oil wealth, constitution amendments and provincial elections.


The United States has been pressuring Iraq's government to make a breakthrough in reuniting the polarized nation.


Prior to the passage of the law, U.S. President George W. Bush, who was on a Mideast tour, said in Kuwait that the Iraqi government needs to do more. Hours later, the president hailed the legislation in Bahrain.


"It's an important step toward reconciliation. It's an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people," he said.


(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2008)

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