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Iraqi Cleric Hails Amnesty Idea

Sunni Moderate Calls on President To Broaden Scope

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page A16

BAGHDAD, April 15 -- A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric on Friday welcomed an amnesty offer for Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency and called on President Jalal Talabani to make it a general amnesty that would also apply to those in U.S. detention.

Talabani first aired the idea of forgiveness for guerrillas in his inaugural speech this month. He said Iraq's still-forming new leadership could end the anti-government, anti-U.S. insurgency within months if it reached out to Iraqi members of the resistance while keeping up the fight against foreign insurgents.

Mourners grieve at the funeral for two Iraqi journalists killed Thursday in suicide bombings in Baghdad. Insurgent attacks resurged in Iraq this week. (Faleh Kheiber -- Reuters)

Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a moderate cleric in the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, was the first Sunni leader to respond publicly to the amnesty proposal -- and he welcomed it. Calling on the new transitional government to do "something remarkable for the people," Samarrae urged Talabani to expand his proposal to "a general amnesty for all."

Speaking at Friday prayers at the association's Baghdad mosque, Samarrae asked Talabani to launch the amnesty by obtaining the release of detainees in U.S. military custody at the Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca prisons.

"There are thousands of these young men who have done nothing and are being held without any interrogation or processing of their cases," the cleric said.

The Muslim scholars' group played a leading role in the Sunni boycott of the Jan. 30 national elections, Iraq's first since the fall of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated government.

Samarrae's statements and calls by Shiite Muslim clerics on Friday for action against any Sunni hard-liners still in the government and military reflect growing tensions over how the new, Shiite-dominated government will handle the country's sectarian divide.

Overtures such as Talabani's have shown no sign of winning over Sunni hard-liners. Although insurgent attacks had eased somewhat after the elections, a spate of bloody bombings and other attacks killed dozens of Iraqis Wednesday and Thursday.

At the same time, it is uncertain whether the Shiites and ethnic Kurds who hold sway in the new legislature would support a conciliatory stance toward home-grown insurgents.

On Friday, a car bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy in western Baghdad, killing one Iraqi civilian and injuring five others. An American soldier was also injured.

Also Friday, the military disclosed the deaths of one Marine killed by small-arms fire Thursday in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold, and another Marine killed Wednesday when a mortar landed inside a U.S. base in western Iraq.

On Thursday, one detainee was killed and dozens were injured in the latest in a recent series of disturbances at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S. detention center in the country. The military called the disturbance at the facility in southern Iraq a fight among prisoners.

Special correspondent Khalid Saffar in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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