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Iraq bill allows some Baathists back into government

  • Story Highlights
  • Members of Saddam Hussein's party have been banned since overthrow
  • Many Sunnis left jobless by policy took part in insurgency
  • Shiites had delayed passage, demanding amends for Baathist abuses
  • Separate bill would remove Baathist touches from Iraqi flag
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Iraqi parliament passed legislation Saturday that would pave the way for some members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to return to public life, an Iraqi lawmaker told CNN.

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The composition of the Iraqi national flag may be changing soon.

The bill, known as the Justice and Accountability law, must be signed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani before it can take effect.

Senior Baathist leaders who were involved in implementing Hussein's oppressive policies remain excluded from government jobs under the bill, but former low-level Baathists not implicated in crimes could take advantage of the change.

Many Baathists joined the party to get jobs, such as teaching school.

The measure was unanimously passed by the 143 lawmakers present in the 275-member house, after lingering in parliament for about nine months, Hassan al-Sineid of the Shiite bloc United Iraqi Alliance said.

The bill is a big step toward integrating former Baath members into Iraqi politics -- allowing tens of thousands who were banned from government jobs after Hussein was overthrown to reclaim them and receive pensions.

The United States views the bill as a key benchmark for Iraq because it promotes the crucial goal of reconciliation in the country by drawing Sunnis into the fold of the political process.

Hussein's Baathist regime, which persecuted Shiites and Kurds, was largely Sunni Arab. When the Iraqi dictator was overthrown in 2003, the majority Shiites emerged as a power in the government. Marginalized Sunnis joined the insurgency in droves.

President Bush hailed the bill as "an important step toward reconciliation."

Bush, who is on an eight-nation trip to the Middle East, said in Bahrain on Saturday, "It's an important sign that the leaders must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people."

Hard-line Shiites stalled the legislation in parliament for months, demanding that it include measures to compensate victims under Hussein's regime.

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A separate bill, presented Saturday, would replace Hussein's handwriting on the Iraqi flag with the Kufi form of Arabic script, The Associated Press reported.

The bill also would change the meaning of the flag's three stars to represent peace, tolerance and justice, al-Sineid told AP. The stars currently symbolize "unity, freedom and socialism" -- the slogan of the Baath party, according to AP. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

All About The Baath PartyIraqi PoliticsSaddam Hussein

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