- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will offer amnesty to some rebel groups and call for the disarmament of militias as part of a 28-point national reconciliation plan to stem violence, an Iraqi lawmaker said yesterday.

Mahmud Othman said the plan, to be presented to parliament today, aims to “offer amnesty to everyone except war criminals and those who have killed innocent Iraqis.”

“The plan aims to open dialogue with all insurgent groups except al Qaeda and Saddamists, and to disarm militias,” Mr. Othman, a Kurd, told Agence France-Presse.

He said the plan demands a “timetable for the buildup of armed forces to control the security situation so that the role of coalition forces will come to an end.”

Mr. Othman said the reconciliation plan will offer compensation to families of civilians killed by “coalition troops and those who have been wrongly detained, especially civil servants who lost out on career opportunities.”

The plan also will focus on improving Iraqis’ standard of living, he said.

Shirwan al-Waili, the minister of state for national security and a Shi’ite close to Mr. al-Maliki, welcomed the plan, calling it “a broad policy with political, social and economic ramifications.” He said it also “addressed the entire Iraqi society.”

Sunni Arab member of parliament Salim Abdullah also welcomed the plan, but said the “devil was in the details.” He said it will work only if the amnesty extends to as many armed groups willing to enter dialogue as possible.

“The opportunity is ripe to attract all national forces,” he said.

The plan, first mentioned by Mr. al-Maliki on June 6, was inspired by post-apartheid South Africa. It aims to heal the rifts that have torn apart Iraq’s society since the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Arab-dominated regime in April 2003.

As a gesture of goodwill, Mr. al-Maliki approved the release this month of about 2,500 prisoners, most of them Sunnis, held in U.S. and Iraqi prisons.

President Jalal Talabani, who announced his backing of Mr. al-Maliki’s plan on Wednesday, said an amnesty for those who had raised arms against the government will be offered provided they rejoin the political mainstream.

“National reconciliation will be open to everyone, and this will be explicitly stated by the prime minister when he presents it,” Mr. Talabani said.

Since taking office in April 2005, Mr. Talabani, a Kurd, has called for an amnesty to be offered to Sunni Arab insurgents.

Previous calls went unheeded because of opposition from the U.S. military and Shi’ite hard-liners who dominate parliament.

So far, the strongest opposition to Mr. al-Maliki’s plan has come from hard-liners in his own Shi’ite camp.

“We reject this project completely. No dialogue with Saddamists and ‘takfiris,’” Falah Shanshal, a lawmaker close to radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said in reference to Saddam loyalists and Sunni extremists.

Earlier, Qassem Dawood, another parliamentarian from Mr. al-Maliki’s bloc, met with the Shi’ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf and declared afterward: “No reconciliation with terrorists. This plan may or may not pass. There is no way the government can cut deals without parliamentary oversight.”

Although some Sunnis have joined the political process, many have yet to reconcile themselves to losing power to the Shi’ite majority.

Some continue to wage a bloody insurgency that has degenerated into a sectarian war and killed thousands.

The biggest obstacle to reconciliation is “severe lack of confidence” among the country’s feuding factions, the head of the Arab League mission to Baghdad, Mokhtar Lamani, said last week.

Many Sunnis think they are the target of militias linked to Shi’ite ruling parties, while Shi’ites have a deep-seated suspicion toward any potential reconciliation partner after a wave of attacks that hit the community hard after the destruction of a revered shrine in February.

In violence on the ground Saturday, nine persons were killed, including five in separate shootings in Baquba, north of Baghdad.

The head of intelligence services in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Brig. Gen. Musa al-Hadidi, his deputy and a bodyguard were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, police said.

In Baghdad, rebel attacks on police patrols killed one civilian.

The U.S. military yesterday briefly detained a Sunni cleric in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, triggering protests in the city. The military said it did not know Sheik Jamal Abdul Rahman al-Dabban was a senior sheik when he was picked up during a raid.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of four troops, bringing its death toll in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 2,516, according to an AFP count based on Pentagon figures.

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