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Former Iraq Baathists Skeptical of Law

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SAMEER N. YACOUB | January 13, 2008 04:33 PM EST | AP


BAGHDAD — Former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were skeptical Sunday of a new law enabling them to reclaim government jobs, saying they feared it might be a plot to hunt them down.

Parliament on Saturday passed a law that allows some former Baathists _ mostly from Iraq's once-dominant Sunni Arab minority _ to reclaim government jobs or receive pensions. The measure was a key legislative benchmark long sought by the United States to promote national reconciliation.

"This law could be a government decoy to spot high-ranking Baathists in hiding when applying for jobs and get rid of them by gunmen," said Shihab Hamad, a 47-year-old Sunni who used to work as a headmaster of a secondary school. "My life is more precious than any job."

But Falah Shanshal, a Shiite lawmaker and the head of the de-Baathification committee in the parliament, said "such fears are groundless."

"People who have not committed crimes should have nothing to be afraid of," he told The Associated Press. "There are some people who might start such rumors in order to keep the situation tense."

The new bill, titled the Accountability and Justice law, would allow thousands of former Baathists who were not involved in past crimes against Iraqis to fill posts in the Shiite-dominated government. It was designed to replace de-Baathification rules that led to the firing of many senior Baathists who have experience running ministries, university departments and state companies.

Many Baathists and officers in the former Iraqi army went into hiding or left the country in order to escape reprisal killings orchestrated by Shiite militiamen linked to political parties.

Abu Yassin, a 54-year-old Sunni Arab, worked at the Education Ministry before he was sacked in 2003. The ministry rejected his requests for pension, and since then he has been financially dependent on his sons.

"This law is meaningless to me because I cannot work again in a ministry controlled by Shiite parties and militias, and there is no compensation for the past years I have spent without a job."

A Shiite, Abu Saad, said he joined the Baath party in the past just to promote his career in the Trade Ministry, but he was fired after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. He said he has no interest in regaining his job, fearing assassination.

"I prefer to stay home living the rest of my life in peace rather than getting killed while heading to work," he said.