BAGHDAD — A new law intended to reverse the firing of thousands of former Saddam Hussein-era officials during the U.S-led occupation of Iraq has taken effect, Iraq's presidency council announced Sunday in a statement.
But it was uncertain whether the law would promote reconciliation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as the Bush administration hopes, or make matters worse.
An analysis of the legislation by the International Center for Transitional Justice, a New York-based organization that monitors countries' efforts to deal with past human rights violations, said several high-ranking Iraqi officials who held positions under Saddam Hussein would probably be forced from their jobs.
Those could include the current head of the national police, Maj. Gen. Hussein Jasim al Awadi, and the head of the Iraqi military in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, both of whom were members of Saddam's Baath party.
Especially hard hit would be the country's judiciary, the analysis said. Many of Iraq's current judges also served during Saddam's time.
"This will complicate the political reception of the law," the analysis said, and may create short-term problems in filling key posts.
None of the presidency council's three members signed the legislation, an expression, the council's statement said, of their concern that it wouldn't accomplish the goal of letting former members of Saddam's Baath party serve in government positions and draw government pensions.
But none of them was willing to veto it, either, a power each of them could have exercised.
The Bush administration has described passage of the law as one of a series of key benchmarks necessary to bring about reconciliation between rival Sunni and Shiite factions and undo the much criticized decision by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to purge Baath members from their positions in government after Saddam's fall. That decision has been blamed for putting out of work many low-level Baath party members who'd joined only so they could hold a government job and for fueling support for the Sunni insurgency.
The new law passed parliament last month only over the protest of Sunni political parties, which said the legislation would remove Sunni officials from key posts in the heavily Shiite police and military.
The International Center for Transitional Justice analysis said the law is likely to force from their current positions about 7,000 people who used to work for Saddam-era security agencies and now work for the country's Interior Ministry, which oversees Iraq's police force.
The law also could affect many Iraqi refugees by denying pensions to any Baath party member who's fled the country since the fall of Saddam, the analysis said.
In its statement Sunday, the presidency council said it hoped that the law would be amended to correct problems, but did not specify what would be altered or when that might happen. The U.S. Embassy issued no comment.
Last week, the Sunni Arab member of the council, Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, said the legislation was in some ways more restrictive on former Baathists than the bans imposed by the CPA. The council also includes President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite.
The law would allow most former Baathists to return to their jobs, but would prohibit those who had held the top four ranks of the Baath party's 10 membership levels from working in the government. Those people would be allowed to collect a pension under the new law, however.
"I still have concerns about it," Hashemi said. "It doesn't serve the national reconciliation project."
But Hashemi's daughter and spokeswoman Lubnah Hashemi said Sunday that her father didn't veto the law outright because it offered some benefits and because time ran out on discussions. Under Iraqi law, the presidency council must sign or reject legislation within 10 days of its passage by parliament. If it takes no action, the legislation becomes law.
"This law is much better than the original de-Baathification law, but it's not the best," she said. Amendments will improve the law, but she did not say what those would entail.
There were only about 140 members of Iraq's 275-member parliament present — barely a quorum — when the legislation passed, and only 90 of those voted in favor. Two of the three Sunni parties present walked out of the hall in protest.
ON THE WEB
Read the International Center for Transitional Justice's analysis of the new law.
Read the center's unofficial translation of the law.
The International Center for Transitional Justice's home page.
(Lannen reports for the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader. McClatchy Special correspondent Mohammed Al Dulaimy contributed to this report.)