Maliki Renews Call to Give Some Insurgents Amnesty

By Joshua Partlow and Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 12, 2007

BAGHDAD, Nov. 11 -- During an address in which he described the changes in Iraqi security as "remarkable" and pronounced the country "revived," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday announced his latest push for an amnesty program for insurgents, a plan that he said would allow Iraq to move past sectarian warfare.

At a news conference near his office in the Green Zone, Maliki sketched a broad outline of what the amnesty could entail. He insisted that people found guilty of murder or other acts of terrorism would not be pardoned but said the amnesty would cover many of the "misguided" people who cooperated with insurgent groups though had not committed "major" crimes. "All those people will be released," he said.

"This is a step for bringing back the unity of the Iraqi people," Maliki said.

More than 25,000 people are in U.S. custody in Iraq, and tens of thousands more are in Iraqi detention centers. Maliki declined to estimate how many would be released if his plan is implemented. He said he has asked the U.S. military for a report within two weeks on the prison population and candidates for release, although it is not clear whether Maliki has the authority to force the Americans to release certain detainees if there is a disagreement.

Iraqi officials including Maliki have repeatedly raised the prospect of amnesty, but the proposals have withered with rampant violence and sectarian animosity. During the U.S. military's troop escalation this year, the detainee population increased sharply. Iraqi politicians from different sectarian backgrounds have complained that many detainees have languished for months or years without charge and that many are wrongfully accused.

"The prime minister believes that there are a lot of prisoners who have not committed any crimes or who committed minor crimes, and that's why he wants to release them, because they would not pose a threat to the security of the country," said Ridha Jawad Taqi, a member of parliament and spokesman for the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, a prominent Shiite political party. Taqi estimated that more than 10,000 people in detention might qualify for such an amnesty program.

The amnesty proposal has emerged as deadly violence in Iraq, while ongoing, has subsided from its highest levels. A U.S. military statement issued Sunday, focusing on attacks by mortars and rockets, said the October 2007 levels were the lowest since February 2006. The number of "indirect fire" attacks, as the military calls this type of violence, fell from a high of 1,032 in June to 369 in October, according to the statement.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in central Iraq, told reporters Sunday that the American military buildup has succeeded in beating back the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq in his area, which is the size of West Virginia. Since July 1, the number of attacks has decreased 43 percent and the number of roadside bombs has dropped 59 percent, he said.

"I'm asked the question: Well, did you defeat the insurgency? Of course not," he said. "He's still out there. He's still out there amongst us."

Maliki, during his news conference, also demanded that the United States hand over three former military officials who served under Saddam Hussein and have been convicted of war crimes. The three men were sentenced to death.

An Iraqi court in September affirmed the death sentences of Ali Hassan Majeed, known as Chemical Ali, former defense minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed and former Iraqi army commander Hussein Rasheed Mohammed for their roles in the gassing of Kurds in the 1980s. Maliki said the political argument over the men has delayed their execution and violated a legal requirement that the sentence be carried out within 30 days of the ruling on their appeal.

"We are not thirsty for blood," Maliki said, but added: "We insist on implementing the verdict against all the defendants."

Mirembe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said in an e-mail that the United States is waiting for the Iraqi government to "come to consensus as to what Iraqi law requires before preparing a physical transfer.

"The U.S. is not refusing to relinquish custody," she said.

Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Zaid Sabah in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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