Iraq’s cabinet on Tuesday approved a draft law creating a national guard, which Sunni political figures have described as a necessary step to achieving national reconciliation.
But a measure to reform the government’s ban on former Baath Party members from government proved divisive. Sunni ministers boycotted the second draft law, saying it did not go far enough, while the rest of the cabinet approved it.
It remains unclear how parliament will greet the two sets of legislation, which are already generating controversy. Approval by the cabinet does not guarantee passage by the parliament.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s spokesman Rafid Jaboori applauded the sending of the national guard law to parliament as “a way to confront ISIL”, a reference to the militant group Islamic State which controls large sections of the country.
Sunni political and tribal leaders have billed the national guard law as a way to handle their own security in combating the militant group.
The guard would be a locally-based force, answerable to the provincial government, and then the prime minister. Sunni leaders hope it will empower their communities, who distrust the army and national police they blame for carrying out indiscriminate arrests in the past.
Ending the ban on ex-members of the Baath Party, which ruled Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003, from public service has also been a main Sunni demand.
But Sunni cabinet members were disappointed by the second draft law.
Dr. Muhannad Hussam, a politician and close aide to Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq, said the measure on “debaathification” adopted by Shi’ite government ministers without their Sunni counterparts was a disaster.
“This will create huge pressure against Sunni political figures within the society,” said Hussam, who attended the cabinet meeting. “We had received promises. Now we found its not real.”
Still, Hussam said the Sunni ministers supported the national guard bill, which he called “a start.”
Iraq’s debaathification 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 U.S. military occupation of Iraq.