Iraq cabinet unveils sweeping reform of Saddam law

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's cabinet unveiled sweeping reforms to a law barring members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party from public life on Sunday, in a bid to head off months of rallies by the country's Sunni Arab minority.

The amendment to a De-Baathification law still need to be approved by parliament but if implemented, would mark a key concession to demonstrators in Iraq's north and west who have alleged that the current rules promote unfair targeting of their community by the Shiite-led authorities.

Ministers on Sunday approved a draft amendment that would allow Baath branch chiefs, or firqa-level members, to rejoin the civil service, and would provide for pension payments for many members of the Fedayeen Saddam, a paramilitary organisation loyal to the now-ousted dictator.

It would also put a time limit on the law, ensuring that only names blacklisted by the end of 2013 would be restricted from public life.

In all, the draft law would allow thousands of people to either enter the civil service or receive pensions.

"Cabinet today approved an important amendment to the law of Justice and Accountability," Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak said in a statement summarising the reforms, referring to the formal name for Iraq's De-Baathification law.

"This law has excluded many talented people and prevented the country from (benefiting from) their services."

Critics have said the existing rules are too broad-reaching, disproportionately target Sunni Arabs, who were largely in power during Saddam's rule, and could theoretically be applied in perpetuity.

In particular, Sunni Arab protesters have railed against the law during months of protests alleging that anti-terror legislation is used to target their minority.

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