Iraqi Leaders Allow Controversial Baathist Law to Take Effect

By Amit R. Paley and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 4, 2008

BAGHDAD, Feb. 3 -- Controversial legislation that had been promoted as a way to return former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to government became law Sunday, Iraq's presidency council said, despite objections by Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni Arab government official.

But the status of the law, one of the key benchmarks for political progress demanded by the United States, remained shrouded by the same confusion and strife that surround much of Iraq's political process.

The three-member presidency council said in a statement that the legislation, passed by parliament Jan. 12, was now "considered as approved," even though aides said that Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni and a member of the council, refused to sign it. Council advisers said a bill approved by parliament automatically takes effect 10 days after the council receives it if the members fail to unanimously approve or veto the law.

Some lawmakers disputed that characterization. An aide to Khalid al-Attiyah, the deputy speaker of parliament, said if the presidency council does not unanimously endorse or reject the law it returns to parliament, known as the Council of Representatives.

"In the event the Presidency Council does not approve, legislation and decisions shall be sent back to the Council of Representatives to reexamine the disputed issues," the Iraqi constitution says.

It was unclear whether lawmakers and opponents of the measure would use the dispute to challenge the legality of the law.

The legislation was originally promoted as a way to return former Baathists to government. The presidency council statement said the measure has "positive and encouraging elements" and "will allow thousands of Iraqis to return to their previous jobs after being eradicated because of the De-Baathification law" ordered by the Bush administration in 2003.

Yet since its passage, the legislation has sparked worries that its ambiguous wording could result in thousands of former party members being expelled from their jobs. The council said it has "reservations on many articles" in the law, which "abandons many qualified officers in different professions whom Iraq needs urgently nowadays."

Lubna al-Hashimi, the vice president's daughter and one of his advisers, said the presidency council could not agree by the 10-day deadline on how to fix the law. "We no longer have time to make a decision," she said.

Alaa Maaki, a member of the political bureau of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the influential Sunni political party that Tariq Hashimi leads, said the presidency council was likely to make suggestions to parliament on how to amend the legislation. He said one of the key proposed changes would be to give the council, rather than parliament, oversight over the committee charged with implementing the law.

Other lawmakers said there would be reluctance to tinker with the legislation.

"I do have some disagreements with the law, but it passed and I don't think we should keep talking about it now," said Nasar al-Rubaie, the head of the Shiite bloc in parliament loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "The presidency council has let the law pass, so no changes can be made to it now."

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