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U.S.-SOUGHT IRAQ LAW TAKES EFFECT

But doubts surface over the legislation aimed at uniting factions.

Iraq's presidency council said that controversial legislation, promoted as a way to return former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to government, became law Sunday despite objections by Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni Arab government official.

The status of the law, one of the key benchmarks for political progress demanded by the United States, remained shrouded by the confusion and strife that surround much of Iraq's political process.

The legislation is intended to allow thousands of Hussein-era officials to return to government jobs, and it is viewed by the Bush administration as central to mending deep fissures between minority Sunni Arabs and Kurds and the majority Shiites who now wield power. Thousands of officials were fired after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The three-member presidency council said in a statement that the legislation, passed by Parliament Jan. 12, was now "considered as approved," even though aides said that Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni and a member of the council, refused to sign it.

The panel did express concern "over some items that would hamper the national reconciliation project," pointing to a clause that would "lead to the exclusion of employees with high qualifications of which Iraq is in dire need."

An analysis of the legislation by the International Center for Transitional Justice, a New York-based organization that monitors countries' efforts to deal with past human rights violations, said several high-ranking Iraqi officials who held positions under Hussein would probably be forced from their current government jobs.

Those could include the current head of the national police, Maj. Gen. Hussein Jasim al-Awadi, and the head of the Iraqi military in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, both of whom were members of Hussein's Baath Party.

Especially hard hit would be the country's judiciary, the analysis said. Many of Iraq's current judges also served during Hussein's time.

Advisers to the presidency council said a bill approved by Parliament automatically takes effect 10 days after the council receives it if the members fail to unanimously approve or veto the law. Some lawmakers disputed that characterization.

An aide to Khalid al-Attiyah, the deputy speaker of Parliament, said if the presidency council does not unanimously endorse or reject the law it returns to Parliament.

It was unclear whether lawmakers and opponents of the measure would use the dispute to challenge the legality of the law.

strike goes awry: The U.S. military said that a Saturday night airstrike targeting insurgents south of Baghdad killed nine Iraqi civilians, including a child. The 10 p.m. attack near Iskandariyah also wounded three civilians, including two children, said Maj. Brad Leighton, a military spokesman. He said the incident was under investigation.

U.S. TROOPS KILLED: The U.S. military said Sunday that a soldier was killed Thursday in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Baghdad. A U.S. soldier also died of noncombat causes in Ninevah province in northern Iraq, the military said.

Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.

FAST FACTS

Crossing borders?

U.S. military forces in Iraq were authorized to pursue former members of Saddam Hussein's government and terrorists across Iraq's borders into Iran and Syria, according to a classified 2005 document posted on an independent Web site. The document outlines the rules of engagement for the U.S. division that was based in Baghdad and central Iraq. It is not known if the authority was ever used or what authority exists today. The document was made public today by Wikileaks, which encourages posting of leaked materials.

New York Times

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