Iraq parliament hears draft law on former Baathists

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BAGHDAD, Nov 25 (Reuters) A draft bill that would ease curbs on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party joining Iraq's civil service and military was read in parliament on Sunday ahead of debate on the measure, officials said.

It marked the first time parliament has taken up any of several key bills that the United States says are vital to helping reconcile majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs. ''The bill was put on the schedule this morning because we need to get moving on this,'' a parliamentary official told Reuters, adding the bill was being read out for the first time.

Many Baath party members were Sunni Arabs who feel persecuted by successive Iraqi administrations since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. A government committee was set up to purge Baathists after the US-led invasion.

The parliament session was closed but one participant inside the hearing said members of the faction loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had quickly rejected the bill.

Cabinet approved changes to the draft earlier this month.

Washington has been urging Iraq's leaders all year to pass key pieces legislation, including laws that would equitably divide up the country's vast oil reserves and set a date for provincial elections but there has been little progress.

Tens of thousands of Baath party members were fired from government and military jobs after Saddam, who persecuted Iraq's Shi'ite community, was ousted.

US officials say more than 45,000 former Baathist members of Saddam's military have been granted pensions, allowed to return to active service or given other employment in the Iraqi government.

The draft law would formalise the easing of such curbs and is also expected to address the issue of pensions for former senior members of Saddam's military.

Reuters SYU GC1656

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