BAGHDAD, April 10 -- 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.
Jalal Talabani spoke on first day of work as president.
(Akram Saleh - Reuters)
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."