By Joshua Partlow and Bassam Sebti
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 26, 2006
BAGHDAD, June 25 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday invited insurgents to lay down their weapons and join the political process, promising an amnesty for opponents who have not been involved in acts of terrorism.
Maliki unveiled his 24-point national reconciliation plan in a speech Sunday morning at a parliament meeting in the heavily guarded Green Zone. It was the new Shiite Muslim-led government's first major initiative aimed at diminishing the violence and defusing the Sunni Arab insurgency.
The reconciliation plan, which also called for strengthening Iraqi armed forces in preparation for the departure of U.S. troops, received hearty applause and expressions of support from parliament members representing disparate factions in Iraqi politics.
But the initiative as presented Sunday provided few details about how the reconciliation process would unfold or who, specifically, would be pardoned. Maliki said the "reconciliation will be neither with the terrorists nor the Saddamists," referring to supporters of former president Saddam Hussein.
The plan called for pardoning detainees "who were not involved in crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity" and for forming committees to secure the release of innocent prisoners as quickly as possible.
"The launch of this national reconciliation and dialogue initiative should not be read as rewarding the killers and criminals or accepting their actions," he said. "There can be no agreement with them unless they are punished with justice.
"To those who want to rebuild our country, we offer an olive branch," he said.
The positive reception of Maliki's reconciliation plan was somewhat undercut by deadly violence across the country.
Video footage posted on a Web site showed the apparent executions of three Russian Embassy workers who were abducted June 3 from the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad.
A statement issued by the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council, an umbrella organization of insurgent groups including al-Qaeda in Iraq, accompanied the video. It said a fourth worker also was killed and that the killings were "revenge for our brothers and sisters who are being tortured, killed, and made destitute by the infidel Russian government." The kidnappers earlier had demanded that Russia withdraw troops from Chechnya, a war-torn region that is home to many Muslims. The Russian government has not confirmed the deaths.
Also Sunday, the U.S. military announced that a soldier from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat team, 4th Infantry Division was killed Saturday by a roadside bomb attack on his convoy south of Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The reconciliation plan has gone through several revisions. Earlier proposals suggested offering pardons for those who attacked Americans, but Maliki's plan offered Sunday did not make a distinction between crimes against U.S. troops and crimes against Iraqis.
During a televised appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it was "unconscionable" that Iraqis would consider offering amnesty to those who have killed U.S. troops.
"For heaven's sake, we liberated that country," Levin said. "We got rid of a horrific dictator. We've paid a tremendous price. More than 2,500 Americans have given up their lives. The idea that they should even consider talking about amnesty for people who have killed people who liberated their country is unconscionable."
At a news conference Sunday afternoon in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said he supported the reconciliation plan and urged Iraqi leaders "to move expeditiously in implementing this project" in order "to begin to take responsibility for bringing sectarian violence to an end."
Khalilzad named two groups that he considered to be "irreconcilables": "those who want the old regime back and those who are al-Qaeda terrorist supporters."
But others who laid down their weapons and accepted the Iraqi government would be offered a voice in the political process, he said.
"All wars must come to an end, and the hostility has to be replaced by reconciliation," Khalilzad said. "We understand the need for an amnesty."
The plan presented a list of goals, including solving the problem of militias, ending human rights abuses in prisons and confronting unemployment. But it offered few details on how they would be accomplished.
"How do they differentiate between terrorists and people who are insurgents, how do they decide who to talk to and who to avoid, how do they know who has committed crimes, and which crimes do they care about?" asked Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish legislator. "All these things need a bit of explanation and specification and need to be cleared up."
Othman said that 11 Sunni insurgent groups issued a joint communique saying they would not entertain the amnesty offer until the Americans leave Iraq.
Nevertheless, the reconciliation plan was endorsed by a wide range of Iraqi politicians. Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which represents the three main Sunni political parties in parliament, said it was a "first step toward security and stability."
The plan also included a pledge to compensate victims of terrorism and of the former government, and a commitment to building up the Iraqi armed forces in preparation for the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said on Baghdad TV that Sunni insurgent groups had been in "negotiations with the Americans for a while now."
The insurgents "are convinced that the main enemy to Iraq right now is Iran and that . . . therefore the coalition forces are no longer the first enemy and, accordingly, they should reach an agreement," Talabani said.
Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim, Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.