FOCUS / REBUILDING IRAQ
Baathists once again are welcome
Baathists may regain their jobs and pensions, but Iraqi legislation on the Baath party has sparked controversy in parliament
By KAZEM AL-AKABI
Baghdad _ Although an overwhelming majority of Iraq's lawmakers ratified the new law allowing functionaries of the Baath party of former dictator Saddam Hussein to return to public life, a number of parliamentary blocs are still divided on the legislation. The Accountability and Justice Law was ratified on Saturday and is regarded as a major step taken towards the country's reconciliation.
It reverses the de-Baathification law which placed restrictions on former members of Saddam's ruling party.
One month after the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, when the Baath party was declared illegal, Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer enacted the dismissal of all Baathists from official jobs and political participation, rendering thousands of them unemployed.
Now that the ramifications of this decision have been understood, the door has been opened to former Baathists to re-engage in Iraq's public life in an attempt to put an end to the continuous tension between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites.
''It's an important step towards 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,'' said US President George W Bush in praising the legislation.
Teachers, university professors and army personnel who used to be members in the Baath party are now expected to be again part of Iraq's labour force, returning to their careers and receiving their retirement pensions.
A large majority of the 140 parliamentary members present on Saturday passed the new law. The Iraqi parliament has 275 members.
The Shi'ite al-Sadr bloc topped the list of parliamentary blocs which opposed the legislation. It fears that the return of the Baathists _ whom they regarded as being their oppressors during Saddam's reign _ could lead to them regaining control over the country. Also opposing the legislation were the blocs of the National Dialogue Council, with 22 seats previously headed by former Iraqi premier Iyad Allawi, and the National Dialogue Front, which has 11 seats.
Other blocs in opposition included the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF), which has 24 seats, and the three members of the Independent Arab Block.
Some parliamentary members condemned an article in the law which excludes members of the Baath party who are still charged with crimes.
Moustafa al-Heity, a member of the National Dialogue Front, said the law includes many vague statements that could be easily misunderstood.
He described the law as ''unrealistic and inapplicable,'' saying it contains a paragraph that denies the return of the Baath party ''whether in ideology, policy or practice, to authority or public activities under any name''.
Abdul Karim al-Samarey of the Iraqi National List called for a vote on the original version of the law without any amendments excluding Baath members charged with crimes. ''The Baathists are considered a part of the Iraqi people. Penalties and punishments imposed on them should not be continued,'' said Mr al-Samarey. The legislation was repeatedly postponed and fiercely opposed by various blocs when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki first announced it in June 2007. DPA