Proposed Iraqi Law Would Restore Jobs For Baath Members

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

BAGHDAD, March 27 -- Iraq's prime minister and president have approved a draft law allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to their government jobs, and it could be voted on this week, officials said Monday.

The legislation, seen by the United States as crucial to pacifying Iraq, will go to parliament as soon as it is reviewed by cabinet officials, said Ahmed Shames, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S.-led occupation authority stripped thousands of members of Hussein's ruling Baath Party, most of them Sunni Arabs, of their government jobs. The law has been a target of criticism by the minority Sunnis, whose most aggrieved elements have fought a bloody insurgency against the Shiite-led Iraqi government and U.S. forces.

"This law will be a pillar in building national reconciliation and in starting the process of healing and rehabilitation," Maliki and President Jalal Talabani said in a statement announcing the draft's completion.

Under U.S. pressure, Maliki agreed last year to readdress the issue of former Baathists by early this year. Some U.S. officials had recently warned that the efforts were stalled.

The draft, which was released by the U.S. Embassy early Tuesday, would let all but the three highest levels of Baathists return to their jobs, provided they had not been involved in criminal activity. All those who lost their jobs would collect a pension. It was unclear how many former Baathists would benefit from the legislation.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, Maliki's political adviser, said that the draft would probably go before parliament this week and that top officials would pressure lawmakers to pass it quickly.

Alaa Makki, a Sunni lawmaker who said he had not seen the draft, said he expected it to generate debate in parliament. But he said an agreement could "reactivate" a political process that has often been paralyzed by sectarian divisions.

"A lot of people really were wrongly punished," he said. "It will be a positive sign of political success if this law is passed and accepted. And many people will get to reconciliation."

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called for such a measure Monday in a farewell news conference, at which he repeatedly urged Iraqi leaders to quickly resolve their differences or risk losing American support.

"The members of the coalition as well as other countries have made enormous sacrifices to give Iraq a chance to build a stable and democratic order," Khalilzad said. "Iraqis must not lose this opportunity, and they must step up and take the tough decisions necessary for success."

Khalilzad, 56, who leaves his post after 21 months and is expected to be approved as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, gave a restrained appraisal of the prospects for stability in Iraq. He pointed to a 25 percent drop in violence in Baghdad under a six-week-old security plan. But he said he has a "caveated optimism" that the country will make progress as quickly as Americans want it to.

He also said he and other U.S. and Iraqi officials had met several times with representatives of Sunni insurgent groups. He declined to name the groups, saying talks are ongoing, but insisted they were "not terrorists" such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, but "reconcilable insurgents."

"But there are groups that resisted the democratic change, the change in Iraq. It is our goal to get those groups to be reconciled, to accept, to embrace this new Iraq," he said. He said the talks have had some success, pointing to some Sunni tribal leaders' decision to back U.S. forces in fights against Sunni insurgents.

Special correspondents Waleed Saffar and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.


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