- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

The Iraqi prime minister yesterday said Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr would be welcome in the new Iraq if the firebrand Shi’ite cleric disbands his militia.

Representatives of Mahdi’s Army have met privately with the new government to work out a deal for the militia’s dismantling, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told ABC’s “This Week.”

Asked about amnesty for al-Sadr, Mr. Allawi said “it depends really on what action, whether they will surrender the weapons or not, whether they’ll practically dismantle the [militia].”

“Once they do this, they are welcome,” he said. “Anybody who respects the rule of law and the human rights is welcome to be part of Iraq. … So it’s up to him.”

Mahdi’s Army declared a unilateral cease-fire with U.S. forces in Baghdad last week, after months of deadly clashes in several Iraqi cities that followed a peak of violence in April when Sheik al-Sadr called on his militia to rise up against the American occupation.

April and May was one of the bloodiest periods for the U.S.-led coalition, with 215 Americans and nine other coalition troops killed in a 60-day stretch.

The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which dissolved itself after last week’s transfer of sovereignty, for months had said Sheik al-Sadr was wanted on an arrest warrant in connection with the slaying of a rival cleric in Iraq last year.

But President Bush broke from that last month, saying it would be up to the new Iraqi government to “deal with al-Sadr in the way they see fit.”

“When we say we transfer full sovereignty, we mean we transfer full sovereignty, and they will deal with him appropriately,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Allawi’s statements fortified claims that serious consideration is being given to defusing violence in Iraq by extending amnesty to insurgents, including those who have killed American troops.

Ending the insurgent attacks leads the new government’s priority list, and it was expected that Mr. Allawi, who took power in Baghdad last week, would announce new security policies quickly.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Mr. Allawi said that if a guerrilla fighter “was in opposition against the Americans, that will be justified because it was an occupation force.”

“We will give them freedom,” spokesman Georges Sada said, noting that the U.S. Embassy has encouraged Mr. Allawi to try creative solutions to end the insurgency without infringing on human rights.

Mr. Allawi yesterday stressed that “there is no room for any militias to operate inside Iraq … whether it’s Muqtada al-Sadr or anybody else.”

However, it was not clear the extent to which Sheik al-Sadr may be attempting to use his authority over Mahdi’s Army as influence within the emerging political power structure in Baghdad.

Mr. Allawi said he had met as recently as yesterday with representatives of the firebrand cleric, who is seeking amnesty while “looking to be part of the political process.”

“He is willing, as he put it through the delegation I just met half an hour ago, to dismantle Mahdi’s Army, or the militias rather, that he has formed,” Mr. Allawi said. “This is indeed the position of our government. We are not tolerating anything outside the law and order of Iraq.”

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