The Iraqi interim prime minister disclosed Saturday that he is drawing up a plan to offer amnesty to Iraqis who have supported resistance actions against the U.S.-led occupation, saying the move is intended for "a new start."
Ayad Allawi, whose interim government is due to take formal control with the transfer of limited sovereignty on June 30, said the amnesty would not extend to those involved directly in killing U.S. troops or in other violent attacks. But it will encompass a broad range of opposition support actions, he said, citing as examples Iraqis who have provided shelter or supplied weapons to resistance fighters or who have "engaged in media campaigns" promoting the insurgency.
By drawing the line this way, Allawi said his hope is "to isolate the hard-core" terrorists and criminals in the country. He said many Iraqis who have sided with the insurgency have done so because they were left without work after the U.S. decision a year ago to disband the Iraqi army and other elements of the security apparatus that had served former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
"Hundreds of thousands of people were without any salaries, any support," he said in English in an interview with reporters traveling with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. "We want to give them a chance to repent and be back as part of a peaceful society."
Wolfowitz, who completed a four-day stay in Iraq that included extensive discussions with Allawi and other senior Iraqi officials, welcomed the move.
"Things that encourage people to stop fighting and get on with helping to build a new Iraq are good things," he said. "We've heard from some of our division commanders that there are people fighting us with a willingness to give it up."
Allawi also reported that his government, in consultation with Wolfowitz and other U.S. officials, had worked out plans for a revamping of Iraq's fledgling security services.
The Bush administration last year designed a set of five Iraqi forces, each with a different mission, and has been struggling to make them effective.
Development of new Iraqi military and law enforcement services is a linchpin of the administration's strategy for ensuring long-term stability in the country and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.
But the effort has faltered badly as a result of inadequate training, equipment shortages and untrustworthy recruits.
A new plan, which Allawi said he intended to detail publicly Sunday, envisions a bigger army than called for previously and puts greater immediate emphasis on creating counter-terrorism capabilities, according to U.S. officials who were involved in discussions with Iraqis here this week.
It also brings directly under the new army what U.S. officials had designated as a separate paramilitary force known as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, fashioning it more clearly along the lines of the National Guard in the United States.
Further, the plan establishes mechanisms for asserting firmer central control over the security services and achieving better coordination with regional units, officials said.
Allawi provided few details about who would be covered by the proposed amnesty. He said he had instructed the interim minister of justice to come up with a list of potential categories of beneficiaries.
U.S. authorities have described the enemy in Iraq as a mixture of groups that include former members of Hussein's military, police and intelligence structures, along with religious extremists and foreign fighters. In recent public comments, Allawi has made clear his interest in trying to recruit former military officers for the new Iraqi army and has spoken of the possibility of reconstituting whole units of the old army.
But the number of opposition sympathizers who might be willing to come forward and admit to having participated in some way in the insurgency is difficult to predict. Equally unclear is what effect, if any, such an offer might have on weakening the insurgency, which lately has shown a marked rise in assassinations and attacks on oil pipelines and other public works facilities.
The real impact of the initiative may be more political than military, affording previously pro-insurgent Iraqis a chance to register a vote of confidence in the establishment of a homegrown administration.
In addition to attempting to bring in many supporters of the insurgency who have yet to be captured, some senior members of the new government also are pushing for the release of a number of those currently detained. The United States in recent weeks has let many prisoners go but continues to hold about 5,000 people.
Among those rounded up by U.S. forces over the past year and still in detention are a number of "prominent figures" from "social, tribal and religious communities," according to Iraq's president, Ghazi Yawar. In a separate interview Saturday, Yawar said he had urged U.S. officials to free many of these individuals, arguing that their release would be a sign of goodwill and could bolster public support for the new government.
"Prominent figures in this social community have been apprehended who have a lot of constituents and followers," he said.
U.S. officials have expressed a willingness to work with Iraqi authorities in determining whom to release. Wolfowitz and Allawi discussed the creation of a joint commission that would set detention policy and review individual detainee cases.