Iraqi Cabinet Drafts Two Reform Laws to End Sectarian Strife

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gestures during a speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on January 23, 2015 in Davos. AFP/Fabrice Coffrini

Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Iraq's cabinet approved on Tuesday two draft laws aimed at ending sectarian rifts, one creating a national guard and the other reforming government policies towards ex-members of the Baath party.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's spokesman Rafid Jaboori described the national guard law as "a way to confront ISIS," a reference to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group which controls large sections of the country.

The creation of a national guard has been a key demand of Sunni politicians. Primarily Sunni Muslim political and tribal leaders said they wanted to handle their own security in combating the militant group.

Iraqi security forces, backed by Kurdish troops, pro-government volunteering fighters, and tribesmen, along minor aid from US-led campaign of airstrikes, have managed to regain some ground from ISIS.

Still, the jihadists control significant territory, including some major cities like Mosul and Falluja.

Meanwhile, ending the ban on ex-members of the Baath party, which ruled Iraq before the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, from public service has also been a key demand.

The bills will now be passed to the parliament for approval.

"This is significant. These are commitments in the government manifesto," Jaboori told Reuters.

It remains unclear how parliament will greet the legislation, which has either been attacked by political camps for going too far or not going far enough.

No immediate details were available about the drafts, which the cabinet had been required to pass within six months of the government's formation.

Iraq's de-baathification policies have already been amended twice since 2003, most recently at the beginning of the previous government's term in 2010.

However, past efforts have failed to mend the damage from the blanket expulsion of former Baath members, mostly Sunnis, from public service in the first years of the US military occupation of Iraq.

The bills come two days after the United Nations said that violence in Iraq had killed 1,375 people in January.

UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said at least 1,101 people were killed in December, capping the most violent year for Iraq since 2007, when sectarian bloodshed in the country was at its peak.

The UN numbers do not include territories held by ISIS.

The brutal militant group, which declared a "caliphate" in the territory it seized in Iraq and Syria, has killed thousands of people in both countries, targeting in particular ethnic and religious minorities, some of them in highly-choreographed videotaped sequences in which the victims are beheaded.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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