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Talabani Offers Amnesty to Insurgents

New Iraqi President Reaches Out to Sunnis, Names Jafari as Prime Minister

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page A22

BAGHDAD, April 7 -- Iraq's new Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, took office Thursday and immediately offered an amnesty aimed at drawing in Sunni Muslims from an armed insurgency increasingly seen as faltering. He left open the possibility of forgiving insurgents who had killed combatants.

The swearing in of Talabani, a former Kurdish rebel leader and a Sunni, served as one of the sharpest examples so far of how nearly a century of minority Sunni Arab dominance in Iraq had been overturned.

Minutes after taking the oath of office, Talabani offered his new government's top post, prime minister, to Ibrahim Jafari, a former Shiite Muslim opposition figure. Talabani gave Jafari two weeks to form a cabinet. This filled the top executive positions in the new transitional government, which was created by Jan. 30 national elections and is slated to write a new constitution and oversee a new national vote for a full-term government.

"This is a democratic process in the heart of the Middle East," said Barham Salih, a Kurd who is deputy prime minister in the outgoing interim government. "The outside world should recognize the amazing achievement we have come to here in Iraq."

Talabani, elected Wednesday by the new National Assembly, repeatedly reached out during his inaugural speech to Iraq's Sunnis, disaffected since the April 9, 2003, overthrow of Saddam Hussein and disenfranchised by their leaders' call for a boycott of the January vote.

Talabani offered amnesty to those who turned away from the Sunni-led armed resistance, saying they had been misled by foreign terrorists.

"We should find the political and peaceful solutions with those Iraqis who were deceived into joining the terrorists to afford them amnesty and invite them to join the democratic process," Talabani said.

Distinguishing between Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters, Talabani offered no clemency for the "criminal terrorism that is imported from abroad."

Last year, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi offered an amnesty to Iraqi insurgents other than those who had raped, kidnapped or killed. Talabani described a broader amnesty and said nothing about excluding insurgents who had killed combatants.

Asked if amnesty would be offered insurgents responsible for attacks, Talabani told reporters: "Not those who are attacking civilians, those who are attacking mosques . . . those who are attacking churches. They are killing innocent people. They are criminals."

In addition, Jafari said any amnesty offer should exclude insurgents who had raped women.

Hachim Hasani, the Sunni assembly speaker said the amnesty offered by Talabani was a general one that had yet to be formalized with a presidential order.

Shiite and Kurdish politicians say they are determined to draw Sunni Arabs into the government and the political process, seeing inclusion as the way to defuse the Sunni-based insurgency.

Iraqi and foreign leaders credit the strong voter turnout in January for helping break the grip of insurgents in some areas. Public dismay at daily violence, as well as security crackdowns that have made it difficult for insurgents to operate and to receive arms and money, are also thought to have helped lower the number of daily bombings and other attacks in March.

Some former holdouts among Sunni community leaders and even Sunni insurgent leaders say they will take part in Iraq's next elections if U.S. troops have left by then.

Held under television lights in a grubby, U.S. military-guarded hall that the two-day-old administration has already voted to abandon, Talabani's inauguration and Jafari's nomination Thursday marked the most significant recent political milestone for Iraq.

In the next two weeks, political blocs have to fill ministries for oil, security and other top cabinet posts. More than 30 positions are being rationed out painstakingly among the now-dominant Shiite majority, Sunni Arabs, the Kurds (who also are Sunnis) and secularists.

Allawi turned in his resignation as prime minister on Thursday but agreed to stay on until the new cabinet was named, Hasani said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, armed men blew up a Shiite shrine near Latifiyah, 35 miles south of Baghdad, the provincial police spokesman, Muthana Khalid, told the Associated Press.

Insurgents also fired rockets into Fallujah, a restive city in Anbar province, the U.S. military said.

In the northern city of Mosul, a bomb attack on an Iraqi army patrol killed three soldiers and wounded 20, Maj. Gen. Khalil Ahmed Obeidi, the Iraqi commander in Mosul, told the AP. Seven assailants were captured, he said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company