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On Mideast Tour, Bush Hails Legislative Action in Iraq

Iraq's Parliament has passed a law that removes restrictions that prevented many members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from serving in government posts. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports President Bush quickly hailed the move as an important step.

The news from Baghdad reached President Bush in the midst of a Middle East tour, and just hours after he visited a U.S. army base in Kuwait that acts as a staging ground and support center for American forces in Iraq.

By the time he reached Bahrain and sat down for talks with King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Mr. Bush was jubilant - hailing the achievement of a key U.S. benchmark. "I'm pleased to inform you, your majesty, that the Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a de-Baathification law today," he said.

The Bush administration has been pushing the Iraqis for months to pass a law that would remove restrictions on members of the Baath Party, allowing some to return to government jobs they held under Saddam Hussein.

For Mr. Bush, passage was a personal victory. "It's an important step toward reconciliation. It's an important sign that the leaders in that country must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people," he said.

The restrictions on Baathists were put in place after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But over time, the White House realized they were exacerbating tensions between Iraq's majority Shi'ites and once-dominant Sunnis. As a result, Washington urged Shi'ite leaders in parliament to lift the restrictions and make a gesture that could bring more Sunnis into the political process.

The new law will enable thousands of former Baath party members to apply for reinstatement in the civil service and military. Many more reforms are still awaiting action in the Iraqi legislature, including a measure on the distribution of oil revenue.

Iraq is one of many issues the president is discussing here in Bahrain - the home of the U.S. fifth fleet. Mr. Bush is the first sitting American president to visit Bahrain, and he received a warm and, some would say, unusual welcome.

After the speeches and military pageantry of the official welcoming ceremony, a troupe of dancers entered the stone and tile courtyard in front of the presidential palace.

They swayed as they sang, carrying swords and rifles and performing a traditional dance of tribesman going off to war or returning home. It was a reminder of the bloodshed the region has known for centuries and the underlying desire of warriors to put down their weapons and live in peace.