Iraqi Cabinet approves $400 million settlement for American victims of Saddam

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi Cabinet unanimously approved a $400 million settlement for Americans who say they were abused by Saddam Hussein's regime, the government spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

The agreement, that still needs the approval of the Iraqi parliament, represents a significant step forward for Iraq and could bring an end to years of legal battles by Americans who claim to have been tortured or traumatized under Saddam's regime dating back to the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The deal is likely to anger Iraqis who consider themselves the victims' of both Saddam's regime and the 2003 U.S. invasion. They wonder why they should pay money for wrongs committed by the ousted dictator.

The settlement needs to be approved by the Iraqi parliament, a big hurdle, given the likely public outcry at the deal and the fact that the legislature has only met once since the March 7 elections. The vote produced no clear winner, leaving Iraq without a new government for more than six months.

Government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, did not mention the dollar amount that Iraq had agreed to pay in the statement released Thursday, but Iraqi officials previously said that according to the agreement, signed Sept. 2, Iraq would pay about $400 million to Americans affected by the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

Any amount Iraq agreed on as compensation for the American victims of Saddam should be seen favorably and as a compromise between the two sides, given that the U.S. claims "exceed $10 billion," al-Dabbag said. He emphasized the importance of the deal with the Americans since it could pave the way for Iraq "to get out of Charter 7," a reference to the U.N. sanctions, imposed on Iraq after the Kuwait invasion in 1990.

Baghdad would need the help of the United States to lift the embargo.

The statement did not say specifically who would receive the money. Saddam's government held hundreds of Americans hostage during the run-up to the Gulf War, using them as human shields in hopes of staving off an attack by the U.S. and its allies.

Many of the Americans pursued lawsuits for years against Saddam's government. The Americans kept up their legal fight after Saddam was overthrown in 2003 and a new government came to power. CBS News correspondent Bob Simon, who was held for more than a month during the Gulf War, was one of the people suing Iraq.

In other developments on Thursday, the U.S. military said an American airman was killed and a soldier was wounded in a controlled detonation in the Joint Base Balad, north of Baghdad.

Controlled detonations are part of a routine process to dispose of unexploded bombs and munitions. The military said Wednesday's incident is under investigation.

The incident, still under investigation, occurred on Wednesday morning. The airman was pronounced dead at the scene of the explosion and the wounded soldier was rushed into the Air Force hospital on the base, the statement said.

The name of the deceased airman was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The death raises to at least 4,419 the number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. That's according to an Associated Press count.