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Iraq cabinet unveils sweeping reform of Saddam law

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Iraq's cabinet unveiled sweeping reforms to a law barring members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from public life on Sunday as part of moves to placate angry rallies by the country's Sunni Arab minority.

The amendment to the De-Baathification law still needs to be approved by parliament, where it is expected to face stiff opposition, but it is among a raft of concessions to demonstrators who have alleged that the Shiite-led authorities unfairly target the Sunni community.

The protests since December lie at the heart of a political dispute that has pitted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is Shiite, against several of his erstwhile national unity government partners, in particular those from Sunni and Kurdish parties.

Ministers on Sunday approved a draft amendment that would allow Baath party branch chiefs, or firqa-level members, to rejoin the civil service, and would provide for pension payments for many members of the Fedayeen Saddam, a paramilitary organisation loyal to the now-ousted dictator.

It would also put a time limit on the law, ensuring that only names blacklisted by the end of 2013 would be restricted from public life.

In all, the draft law would allow thousands of people to either enter the civil service or receive pensions.

Cabinet also approved amendments to laws on the use of secret informants and the seizure of property, both of which are major frustrations to the Sunni Arab community.

"Cabinet today approved an important amendment to the law of Justice and Accountability," Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak said in a statement summarising the reforms, referring to the formal name for Iraq's De-Baathification law.

"This law has excluded many talented people and prevented the country from (benefiting from) their services."

Critics have said the existing rules are too broad-reaching, disproportionately target Sunni Arabs, who were largely in power during Saddam's rule, and could theoretically be applied in perpetuity.

In particular, Sunni Arab protesters have railed against the law during months of protests alleging that anti-terror legislation is used to target their minority.

"This is a step towards moving to a new phase, away from phobia of the Baath party," said Ihsan al-Shammari, a politics professor at Baghdad University. "I think the government made a good move here."

But, Shammari said, the proposal was likely to face opposition in the Shiite-dominated south of Iraq that, along with the northern Kurdish region, faced the brunt of Saddam's wrath.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130407/iraq-cabinet-unveils-sweeping-reform-saddam-law-0