Iraq's presidency council on Sunday issued a controversial law that allows lower-ranking former Baath party members to reclaim government jobs, the final step for the first U.S.-backed benchmark approved by parliament.
The measure was thought to affect about 38,000 former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling political apparatus, giving them a chance to go back to government jobs. It would also allow those who have reached retirement age to claim government pensions.
It became law without the signature of the Sunni representative on the three-member presidency council because the constitution requires the body to act within 10 days after the panel received the law, according to Iraq's constitution.
Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi objected to provisions in the law that would have pensioned off 7,000 members of Saddam's former secret police and intelligence agents who still worked in Iraq's security apparatus.
The law is the first of 18 pieces of benchmark legislation demanded by the Bush administration to promote reconciliation among Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Arab communities and the large Kurdish minority.
Other draft legislation includes measures to divvy up the country's vast oil wealth, amend the constitution and define rules for new provincial elections.
The so-called de-Baathification law was passed by the 275-member parliament on Jan. 12. The presidency council announced it had issued the legislation in a statement on Sunday.
In addition to al-Hashemi, the presidency council consists of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, who both approved the law as sent to the panel by the parliament.
Al-Hashemi, however, objected to the automatic dismissal of the 7,000 agents, former Baathists still employed in the country's security services. Top al-Hashemi aides also said he wanted decisions on exceptions to the law to be handled by the presidency council rather than parliament as the law currently requires.
In an apparent face-saving gesture to al-Hashemi, Talabani and Abdul-Mahdi promised they would agree to send amendments back to parliament. But passage of the changes was seen as highly unlikely.
The measure also sets up a seven-judge appeals panel for those who have been dismissed in the de-Baathification process and strikes an old clause that forced them to surrender pensions automatically if they appeal previous dismissal.
The move was seen as a key step in the reconciliation process and the parliament's decision was hailed by President Bush. The decision to outlaw the Baath party was the first official act of L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, and along with his order to disband the Iraqi army has been widely blamed for setting in motion the Sunni insurgency in the fall of 2003.
The strict implementation of so-called de-Baathification rules meant that many senior bureaucrats who knew how to run ministries, university departments and state companies were fired after 35 years of Baath party rule.
Iraq's military already had worked through the Baath Party problem, declaring that anyone who had served above the rank of major in Saddam's time would be automatically retired and put on pension. Those who held the rank of major or below were allowed to return to the military if qualified.