Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Major Benchmark Met in Iraq

Iraqis have met one of the major political benchmarks today, substantively legislating de-Baathification. This is exceptionally good news - for everyone not invested in an American defeat in Iraq at least. This today from the Washington Post:

The Iraqi parliament passed a bill Saturday intended to make it easier for former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to government jobs and collect their pensions, a significant achievement for the divided legislature on an issue still regarded with raw emotion by many Iraqis.

The agreement marks the passage of the first of the legislative benchmarks, a series of goals the U.S. government had once championed but largely ceased advocating publicly after months of delay, frustration and inaction.

President Bush, in Bahrain on an eight-day trip through the Middle East, and some Iraqi officials described the agreement as an important boost for the prospects of reconciliation between the country's marginalized Sunni Muslim minority and its Shiite Muslim majority, which now dominates Iraqi politics.

The legislation seeks to redress the first order issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003, the controversial decision that drove thousands of Baath Party members from their jobs and alienated them from Iraq's political process. That decision, along with a move to disband the Iraqi army, is widely believed to have fueled the Sunni insurgency that proved so deadly in the following years.

Bush hailed the agreement as "an important sign that the leaders in that country must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people."

. . . "It's a good step for many reasons," said Falah Hassan Shanshal, who leads the parliamentary committee overseeing the legislation and is a member of the Shiite party loyal to influential cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "First, it condemns all the crimes carried out by the Baath Party and its bloody regime. And this law will allow us to search for and detect every single person who committed a crime against Iraqis."

Supporters of the measure say it is intended to ease the restrictions that prevented former Baathists from holding government jobs. Shanshal acknowledged that certain people joined the Baath Party not for ideological reasons but out of necessity, and for people who have not committed crimes, "it is possible for them to return to public life."

But members of the largest Sunni coalition in parliament agreed to the new measure. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the group's leader, said the legislation was fair to low-ranking former Baathists and allowed the higher-ranking Shubah members to receive pensions, "which I consider good and acceptable."

"The current rules, on the other hand, deprived a huge number of Iraqi people who didn't commit any crimes and didn't commit any action that violated the law and the constitution," he said.

Some Iraqi officials believe the new measure institutionalizes a punishment against people who acquiesced to Hussein at a time when publicly opposing him could have resulted in a death sentence.

"The problem is that the new leaders have gone in the direction of revenge and vengeance, rather than going into healing those wounds," said Izzat Shabender, a Shiite who is on the de-Baathification committee in parliament. "Even if this law is passed, it cannot achieve the goal -- which is opening a new chapter with the Baathists. . . . It's got nothing to do with reconciliation. The culture of reconciliation does not exist in the heads of the Iraqi leaders."

But with parliament nearly paralyzed by infighting, any agreement was something many Iraqis found heartening. As the prominent Shiite politician Humam Hamoudi said, "The most important thing about this new law is that it is an Iraqi law."

Read the entire article here.

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