Global Policy Forum

Iraqi Proposes Broader Amnesty


Citizens Who Killed in Battle Would Qualify

By Ellen Knickmeyer

Washington Post
April 11, 2005

Iraq's new president called Sunday for extending amnesty to Iraqi insurgents who had killed combatants, possibly including U.S. and Iraqi troops, as part of a drive that he said could help end attacks within months. Jalal Talabani, speaking on his first day of work in the white and gilt presidential offices after his inauguration Thursday, excluded clemency for al Qaeda and other foreign armed groups operating here.

As for killings by Iraqi insurgents, Talabani said: "There are two kinds of killing: In battle or in action, this could be covered by the amnesty. Those who are involved in killing innocent people, detonation of car bombs, killing people in mosques and in churches, these would not be covered by the amnesty." Talabani did not say specifically whether the amnesty would apply to fighters who had killed U.S. troops, other foreign troops or Iraqi security forces. Nor did he elaborate on how an amnesty program would work.

Iraq's new assembly speaker, Hachim Hasani, said last week when Talabani broached the topic of amnesty in his inaugural speech that the president was speaking about an amnesty by presidential order, after consultation with the new government. The interim government put in place after U.S.-led troops routed President Saddam Hussein in March 2003 offered an amnesty to Iraqi insurgents that excluded rapists, kidnappers and killers.

Talabani said amnesty must be only a part of a program that draws Iraqi insurgents into efforts to build democracy, strengthen the economy, diminish public support for insurgents and block their attacks militarily. "With a comprehensive policy, we can eradicate terror in the country within months," said Talabani, a Kurdish former rebel leader and Sunni Muslim elected last week by the new National Assembly.

Leaders in the government increasingly have drawn a line between Iraqi insurgent groups, with which they will seek common ground, and foreign groups, with which they won't. "It is essential that we separate those who came from outside the country, like all those organizations affiliated with al Qaeda, from Iraqis," Talabani said. "We must seek to win over the Iraqis to the democratic process going on in the country and fight the criminal gangs" from outside the country.

Talabani also said he would work to secure the release of hundreds of people loyal to Moqtada Sadr, a firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric, from U.S. detention. Sadr's followers, who have twice fought U.S. troops, have pledged to follow peaceful and democratic ways, Talabani said, and have asked for his help with the detainees. "I will do my best to release them," he said.

Talabani spoke in the audience room of his new offices. A white-haired man in his early seventies who has given up the rebel trim of his youth and middle age, Talabani waited for a reporter on a chair in the presidential offices and pulled an already knotted tie over his head for the interview. Many Iraqi Kurds backed the U.S. drive to topple Hussein, and Talabani, unlike the majority of Iraqis in opinion polls, said he was in no hurry to see U.S. troops leave.

"The war was not the best way, but it was the only way to liberate Iraq," Talabani said. "For that, I am grateful for those who came and sacrificed their lives for this thing. If there was not a sacrifice, you would see me in the mountains, not here in Baghdad! In the caves! You know, the airplanes would come bombard us." Talabani's election by lawmakers Wednesday makes him the first member of Iraq's long-oppressed minority to fill the presidency and the highest-ranking Iraqi Kurd in a half-century.

Talabani and his two vice presidents have veto authority and other powers, although their duties are largely ceremonial. Their first job Thursday was naming Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite former opposition leader, as prime minister. Jafari's appointment sealed one of the myriad deals by which Iraqi politicians are doling out posts in an intended national-unity government meant to bring together the Shiite majority, Kurds, Sunni Muslims and secularists.

Negotiators met with former interim president Ayad Allawi on Sunday in an effort to bring his 40-seat secular bloc into the governing coalition, said the interim deputy prime minister, Barham Salih. Kurds and other secular politicians hope that the inclusion of Allawi's group would offset any religious tilt by Shiite lawmakers, who won the largest share of seats in the 275-seat parliament.

Talabani said Sunday that he would oppose any move to substitute Islamic law for the current civil code on marriage, divorce, inheritance and other family matters. He said he welcomed the influence Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, had had on building the government so far, including drawing out the Shiite vote. Talabani also said he thought any renewed effort by the new government to remove members of Hussein's Baath Party from the government and military should spare the hundreds of thousands who committed no crime or abuses.

But the new government cannot ignore the suffering of the victims of Hussein's Baath-led institutions, particularly Shiites and Kurds, he said. "They were poisoned and they were massacred. There are hundreds of thousands of victims from these two groups," he said. "Of course these people are hating very much Saddam's Baathists. We must also take into consideration the desire of these people in dealing with these criminals.''

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