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Leading Shiite cleric denies opposing law reinstating Iraq Baathists

[JURIST] Iraqi Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani [official website; JURIST news archive] said Tuesday he in fact did not oppose a proposed law [JURIST report] which would return former Baath party [BBC backgrounder] members to their previously held government positions, as initially reported [JURIST report] Sunday. A spokesperson for Sistani denied the reports without revealing the Grand Ayatollah's position on the law, instead saying the issue is constitutional and not religious in nature. Reuters has more.

The draft law, introduced by President Jalal Talabani [official website, in Arabic; BBC profile] and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki [BBC profile] last month, would allow former members of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct Baath party to return to their government or military jobs or receive pensions if they are denied such jobs. Despite provisions in the proposal that would prevent reemployment of former Baathists who have been charged with, or are sought for, criminal activities, several Shiite leaders oppose the draft law as being "dangerous."

Supporters of the draft measure are looking for a way to reinstate [JURIST report] former Baath party members who say they joined the party for professional reasons; Hussein only allowed university enrollment, career progression and specialized medical aide to those who were members of his party. Without approval by Shiite religious leaders, the proposed law has little chance of being passed by the Iraqi National Assembly [official website] since Shiites currently hold 130 of the 275 parliamentary seats and often vote according to the advice of their religious leaders. Some Kurds, who were also suppressed by Hussein's Baathist regime, oppose the draft law as well.

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