Iraq MPs to debate crucial defence and anti-Baathist laws
The Iraqi parliament is to vote on draft laws which would allow the reintegration of thousands of former Baathists into public life, and form a national guard from dozens of unregulated "popular mobilisation" militias and tribesmen.
The Iraqi cabinet on Tuesday agreed amendments to the Accountability and Justice law, known as the "de-Baathification law", and voted to set up a national guard, with units reporting directly to Iraq's military chief but being responsible for the province from which it was recruited.
The drafts were negotiated as part of the deal which created Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's government. They face opposition in parliament, however, with the Sunni-led Union of Forces and the National List saying they would not vote on the changes to de-Baathification.
This is the first time since the end of the US-led occupation that an Iraqi government has discussed amendments to the law, which purged Iraq of Saddam Hussein's largely Sunni-led regime, but left the country without a backbone of experienced administrators and paved the way for violent new sectarian divides.
According to a ministerial source, the new draft would allow tens of thousands of former Baathists to return to jobs and lead normal lives, "but without the Baath".
The same source said that the cabinet "came under immense pressure, both internal from the Union of Forces, and externally by the US, to expedite the amendments to the law, which has caused the persecution of a broad segment of Iraqi commanders, officers, and competencies in the eight years in which former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was in office".
However, Abdul-Karim Abtan, an MP from the National List, said his party would not vote on the amendments, and called for the matter to be referred to the Iraqi judiciary.
|The draft would allow tens of thousands of former Baathists to return to jobs and lead normal lives, 'but without the Baath'.|
Abdul-Rahman al-Luwaizi, an MP for the Union of Forces, said: "Not every law approved in the cabinet passes in parliament, especially those that are the subject of political differences."
National guard, national row
The national guard law was also agreed by a majority of cabinet. However, critics say it has been watered down and stripped of many important features.
Bahaa al-Araji, the deputy prime minister, said it was important that the new guard would be under the command of Abadi, who as prime minister is also the general commander of the armed forces.
Priority of membership would be given to members of the Shia-dominated popular mobilisation militias and tribes fighting the Islamic State group. Araji said the law takes into account the population size of each province and their "social components".
Saad Hadithi, a government spokesperson, told al-Araby there was an agreement to link the guard to the federal government, in terms of oversight and funding. "The national guard would support the armed forces in holding territory within a given province, but is not allowed to cross between provinces," he said.
Zaid Swidan al-Janabi, an MP for the Union of Forces, told al-Araby that the new force would not exceed 120,000 men and would be split "70,000 Shia and 50,000 Sunnis".
Currently, more than 80,000 people are enlisted with the popular mobilisation forces, a number that Janabi said would be reduced to 70,000 before integrating them into the national guard, added to around 4,000 fighters from the Sahawat ["awakening"] and tribes fighting IS.
However, Janabi said the Union of Forces wanted representation in the national guard's command, which he said should report to the ministry of defence.
Some political and tribal groups have expressed concern the national guard would be turned into new militias, under government cover. Khaled al-Dulaimi, leader of the United Alliance, told al-Araby, that the project had "deviated" from its primary purpose.
"The idea is for Sunni forces to defend northern and western regions in Iraq to avoid sectarian friction and put their internal house in order," he said. "Integrating sectarian militias clearly circumvents the project and takes us back to square one."
Dulaimi predicted the parliament would vote down the draft if no amendment were made to some of the provisions that the Sunni blocs object to.
Mohammad Ali al-Masoudi, an MP for the Shia-dominated National Alliance, told al-Araby that the law would be passed within "two or three sessions" - quicker than the budget.
"The importance of the national guard lies in the need to integrate popular mobilisation forces into the security services, and to let them continue fighting IS and eliminate terrorism once and for all," said Masoudi.
"The national guard is not designed solely for the western provinces, and will cover all the provinces of the country."
This is an edited translation of two articles from our Arabic edition.