[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday praised a bill passed [JURIST report] Saturday by the Iraqi parliament [official website, in Arabic] that would allow most members of Saddam Hussein's now-defunct Baath Party [BBC backgrounder] to be reinstated to public life as "a step forward" for the stabilization of Iraq. Passage of the de-Baathification reform legislation was noted by the White House last year as one of 18 as-yet-unmet benchmarks [JURIST report] of Iraqi progress towards stability. Speaking at a Baghdad press conference [transcript] Tuesday with Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, Rice said the Justice and Accountability Law was a key step toward "national reconciliation."
The controversial measure distinguishes between former Baath party officials who have been charged with crimes for their role in the implementation of the party's oppressive policies and those members who joined out of necessity; the latter are now free to reapply for positions in the government and military. Under the new law, officials banned from reinstatement will collect pensions. Iraqi Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani previously called the bill "dangerous" [JURIST report] and its ratification process had stalled [JURIST report] as recently as late November. The New York Times has more. AP has additional coverage.