BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraq’s top Shiite cleric opposes a draft law that would allow former members of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party to resume government positions, the head of the committee dealing with the Baathists said Sunday.
Ahmed Chalabi met with Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani on Sunday in the Shiite holy city of Najaf to discuss the draft law that would allow thousands of former Baath Party members to regain their jobs or grant them pensions if they are denied jobs they once held in the government or military.
The proposal, long demanded by the U.S., is designed to appease Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni Arab minority in a bid to blunt the country’s insurgency and return members of the minority to the political process. The law would allow those in the feared security and paramilitary forces to resume government positions but would exclude former regime members already charged with or sought for crimes.
Chalabi, who runs the Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification, later met three other senior Shiite clerics.
“The grand ayatollahs said it is dangerous for the criminals to return to leading posts in the state,” he said.
The proposed law would supersede the program imposed early in the post-Saddam period under which senior members of the Baath Party were removed from government and military posts. That was done under an edict from L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. official who ran the country for about a year after the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam.
Along with ousting Baathists, Bremer dissolved Iraq’s military and security organizations, putting tens of thousands of armed men out of work. Much of the Sunni insurgency that has proven so deadly to U.S. troops is believed to have coalesced around the dismissed military men.
Many former Baathists have been reinstated, especially teachers and some military officers, after the U.S. found it had gutted key ministries and the military with no replacement personnel among the Iraqi work force and educated elite.
If al-Sistani and other top clerics in Najaf reject the draft law, it would be nearly impossible to push through parliament because many Shiites, who hold 130 seats in the 275-member assembly, abide by rulings for their spiritual leaders.
Some Kurds, who like Shiites were severely oppressed by the Saddam regime, oppose the draft law as well. Shiites and Kurds make about 80 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, introduced the draft law late last month. It still has to be approved by Cabinet and before it is sent to Parliament.
About 1.5 million of Iraq’s 27 million people belonged to the Baath party. Most say they joined for professional, not ideological, reasons, because career advancement, university enrollment and specialized medical care depended on party membership during Saddam’s rule.