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New law may help banned Baathists return to public life

  • Story Highlights
  • Law: Baathists banned from jobs may reclaim them, receive pensions
  • Baathist leaders involved in Saddam Hussein's oppressive policies are excluded
  • President Bush hails the bill as "an important step towards reconciliation"
  • Sunni vice president worries it will "harm the national reconciliation process"
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BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A bill that could pave the way for some members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to public life became law in Iraq on Sunday despite reservations from the country's leading Sunni Arab politician.

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Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (R) and Sunni VP Tariq al-Hashimi allowed the bill to become law Sunday.

The country's three-member Presidency Council allowed the Justice and Accountability bill to become law without the signatures of its members.

The council -- made up of President Jalal Talabani, the Shiite Vice President Adil Abdel al-Mahdi and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi -- have said they recognize the law but hope to amend it at a later date.

Al-Hashimi has been the most outspoken about the measure, and his office warned that some of the law's articles actually "harm the national reconciliation process."

The law could allow tens of thousands who were banned from government jobs after Hussein's 2003 ouster to reclaim them and receive pensions. The United States views the bill as a key benchmark toward a political settlement of the nearly 5-year-old war and praised its passage.

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But al-Hashimi's office said it contains several articles that may lead to the expulsion of senior government workers whose expertise is desperately needed.

Senior Baathist leaders who were involved in implementing Hussein's oppressive policies will remain excluded from government jobs under the law, but former low-level Baathists not implicated in crimes could take advantage of the change.

Talabani and his two vice presidents did not sign the bill into law, but let a 10-day deadline expire. Under Iraq's constitution, the bill automatically becomes law after that time period.

The 143 lawmakers present in the 275-Council of Representatives approved the measure unanimously on January 12 after it lingered in parliament for about nine months, said Hassan al-Sineid, of the Shiite bloc United Iraqi Alliance. Hard-line Shiites stalled the legislation in parliament for months, demanding that it include measures to compensate victims who suffered under Hussein's regime.

Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime persecuted Shiites and Kurds. The majority Shiites emerged as a power in the government after his overthrow by a U.S.-led army in April 2003, while marginalized Sunnis joined the anti-American insurgency in droves.

Shortly after it passed parliament last month, President Bush hailed the bill as "an important step towards reconciliation."

"It's an important sign that the leaders must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people," Bush said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Carol Jordan contributed to this report.

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