A bill that would ease curbs on former Baathists was presented to Iraq’s parliament on Sunday, but a row quickly erupted and forced postponement of debate on a draft law seen as vital to fostering national reconciliation.
It was the first time parliament had taken up any major bills this year that Washington believes will help heal the deep divide between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs.
Objections to the bill from a key Shi’ite faction and arguments over whether it had been submitted properly prevented the draft law from being read out fully, participants at the closed-door session told Reuters.
The row underscores the discord over a law that would formally relax restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party joining the civil service and military.
Many Baath party members were Sunni Arabs who feel persecuted by successive Iraqi administrations since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam.
“The presentation has been stopped and postponed,” said independent Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.
“We want national reconciliation, we want to forget the past … But the law should have been presented properly so those objecting could not find a hole in the presentation.”
Othman said the draft had not been given to parliament’s legal committee before being read out, although the Shi’ite-led government has said all necessary requirements were met.
Ezzat Shahbandar, from a parliamentary committee dealing with the issue, said the law had been sent back to the legislature’s legal body for changes. He said this meant the government might want to review any fresh amendments to a bill that some officials say has already been revised four times.
“This means it will take a long time,” Shahbandar said.
Washington has urged Iraq’s leaders all year to pass several key pieces of legislation but there has been little progress due to political infighting among various factions.
Besides the bill on Baathists, other draft laws would equitably divide up Iraq’s vast oil reserves among the country’s different sects and set a date for provincial elections
Participants at the hearing said the faction loyal to Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had called the draft on former Baathists unconstitutional, saying it was too soft.