- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq yesterday hinted that the United States was open to granting amnesty to Islamist insurgents who have fought it in Iraq.

“As part of a political reconciliation process, amnesty can be very important,” Ryan Crocker told “Fox News Sunday,” speaking from Baghdad.

“It can also be important in this particular context as we seek to draw as many elements as we can away from the fight … against us and into the fight against a common enemy, al Qaeda,” he said. “In terms of individual cases involving people who have American blood on their hands, that is something we have to consider very carefully.”

The No. 2 U.S. soldier in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said Thursday that the U.S. was discussing cease-fires with some Iraqi insurgent groups in an effort to reduce attacks on American and Iraqi government forces. May was the third-deadliest month for U.S. forces in Iraq since they led the invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. Scores of civilians have been dying each week in insurgent attacks.

Mr. Crocker said progress has been made in winning over pro-insurgent Iraqis to the side of the U.S.-backed government but insisted it was too soon to judge whether the U.S. “surge” strategy of pouring in thousands more troops to stabilize parts of Iraq was working.

“Tribes and others that at one point sided with or at least were sympathetic to al Qaeda very definitely have changed their position and are now supporting Iraqi and coalition efforts against al Qaeda,” he said.

But he added: “The long-term process leading to what we all hope is eventual stabilization, security and political accommodation … will take a lot longer than September,” when Mr. Crocker and Gen. David H. Petraeus are to report to Washington on progress.

President Bush last month secured a multibillion-dollar bill to fund the war through September, and more troops are yet to arrive in Iraq under his “surge” strategy, begun in January.

Meanwhile yesterday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani confirmed his government was negotiating with “national resistance” members to whom he was prepared to give amnesty.

“Then only al Qaeda will remain as the main criminal terrorist group, and it will be easy to eradicate it,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”

“People are ready now to fight against — to cooperate against terrorism and to cooperate with Iraqi armed forces. … When this Iraqi so-called national resistance movement will be convinced to come to the political process, the task of eradicating al Qaeda terrorist group will be easier.”

Mr. Talabani expressed optimism about Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi Shi’ite cleric and head of the Mahdi Army, Iraq’s biggest militia, which is accused of carrying out sectarian attacks against Sunnis.

Sheik al-Sadr’s movement “announced that they will … support political process, very peaceful, and he asked his followers not to fight against Iraqi soldiers,” Mr. Talabani said, though he added that the sheik had “lost control of some of his militia.”

He also insisted that Iraq’s government had made “good steps forward for national reconciliation,” including resistance fighters who were joining the political process. He said he expected that the Iraqi army would be ready to defend the country by the end of 2008 but that U.S. forces would continue to have “a long-term presence” there.

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