Iraq to Allow Baathists Back Into Government

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's parliament passed a benchmark law allowing lower-ranking former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to reclaim government jobs, the first major piece of U.S.-backed legislation it has adopted.

The seismic piece of legislation had been demanded by the United States since November 2006 and represented the first legislative payoff for U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to deploy 30,000 additional troops to the country to quell violence.

Traveling in Manama, Bahrain, Bush hailed the law Saturday as "an important step toward reconciliation."

"It's an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people," he said.

In announcing the troop buildup more than a year ago, Bush said it would provide the Iraqi government "breathing space" to begin tackling legislation designed to reconcile Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Arabs as well as Kurds.

Other benchmarks languish, though, including legislation to divvy up the country's vast oil wealth, constitutional amendments demanded by the Sunni Arabs and a bill spelling out rules for local elections.

It was not clear how many former Baathists would benefit from the new legislation, but the move was seen as an important step in the reconciliation process.