Iraqi Parliament Passes the Accountability and Justice Law

On Saturday January 12, 2008, the Iraqi Parliament passed the Accountability and Justice law. This law, if ratified by the Presidential Council, will allow members of the former Baathist regime to hold jobs in the Iraqi government and to collect pensions.  The law reverses the 2003 de-Baathification order by the Coalition Provisional Authority that removed all members of the former regime from their government positions and banned them from participating in the newly-formed government. As a result, it alienated many Sunni politicians and civil servants from government representation and employment.

The passage of the law marks the first of the U.S.-created legislative benchmarks that the Iraqi government has met. The new law was approved unanimously by the 143 members of parliament present during the vote, who represent just slightly more than half of Iraq’s 275 members of Parliament. Four parties openly declared their opposition to the law, including the Iraqi National List (led by Iyad Allawi), the National Dialogue Front (led by Salih al-Mutlak), and two small factions within the Iraqi Accord Front, the main Sunni parliamentary bloc. While the law remains controversial, its passage is a remarkable accomplishment given the divided state of Iraqi politics.

According to Falah Hasan Shenshel, a Sadrist parliamentarian and the head of the De-Baathification Committee, which the new law dissolves: “The law was created to hold accountable all those who committed crimes against the Iraqi people . . . and, at the same time, to send those who did not commit crimes into retirement or back into public life, with the exception of certain administrative posts.”[i]

It took Iraq’s politicians months to negotiate the new law. The Sunni political parties wanted a law which would allow former Baathists to return to politics and government service, while many Shi’ites, most vocally the Sadrist Current, wanted a law which would help identify and punish those responsible for the crimes committed by the Baath regime.

The new law attempts to satisfy the desires of both camps. Many thousands of former Baath members will be allowed to return to their jobs or will receive government pensions. But the De-Baathification Committee will be replaced by a seven member “Accountability and Justice Committee,” whose task will be to prevent “the return of the Baath’s ideology, power, or practices.” Mustafa al-Hiti, a Sunni parliamentarian who opposed the law, called the later provision “unrealistic and unworkable.”[ii]

The law also creates a separate seven member judicial committee, which will be responsible for “taking decisions relating to members of the former Baath party,” presumably including denial of pension and employment rights, and possibly including criminal prosecution for crimes committed under Baath rule.

 A critical component of the law stipulates that all ex-Baathists, regardless of their party ranking, are prohibited from serving in the Interior, Defense, and the Foreign Ministries.  Senior military leaders, such as the Iraqi commander of the Baghdad security plan, would be forced to retire.[iii]  However, the Council of Ministers can now make exceptions to the blanket restrictions laid down in 2003.[iv]    



[i] Asharq al-Awsat January 13, Haydar Najm, “The Replacement for ‘De-Baathification’ Passes the Parliamentary Barrier; Its Opponents Call It ‘Difficult to Implement.’” Translation from Arabic.

[ii] Aswat al-Iraq, “Parliament Approves “Accountability and Justice” as Four Parliamentary Blocs Reject It,” January 12th. Translation from Arabic.

[iii] Washington Post “Iraq Passes Bill on Baathists” Joshua Partlow and Michael Abramowitz, January 13th. 

[iv] New York Times “Ex-Baathists Get a Break.  Or do they?” Solomon Moore.  January 14th.

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