Seeking a new strategy to combat the persistent insurgency that has been roiling this nation, Iraq's interim leadership will offer a broad amnesty within a week to many of the fighters responsible for attacks on U.S. military personnel and Iraqi security forces, the country's interim president said Monday.
The amnesty will apply to any Iraqi who has participated in the insurgency except rapists, hostage-takers or those who have been identified by witnesses as having killed people, President Ghazi Yawar said in an interview.
"Blood draws more blood, and I don't believe in that at all," Yawar said in a wide-ranging conversation in his office. "We have to be strong enough to forgive."
Yawar said the amnesty would be followed with intensified counter-insurgency operations and a reinstatement of the death penalty, which was suspended 15 months ago by L. Paul Bremer, then the U.S. administrator of Iraq.
"We want to offer the carrot, and then later on we will offer a sword and not a stick," Yawar said.
The president said the interim government would revise Iraq's laws to limit the crimes that qualify for capital punishment. Under former president Saddam Hussein's government, 114 separate offenses could result in death.
"We're going to make it difficult to execute a person," he said. "We will set the same standard there is in Western or free-world societies."
In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers meeting with Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, urged the Iraqi government Monday not to reinstate the death penalty. "Ministers made clear their opposition to the restoration of the death penalty," ministers from the 25-nation bloc said in a statement after meeting with Zebari.
But Zebari insisted the death penalty was a threat the government needed to wield in its pursuit of insurgents. "There is a need for the new government to be more decisive and tougher in its actions to bring the security situation under control," he said at a news conference, according to the Reuters news agency. "We need a deterrence against those elements . . . and as an option in order to deter those people from carrying out their evil acts."
U.S. officials have expressed concern about the breadth of the amnesty, particularly the provision that would make eligible people involved in attacks against U.S. forces. There also appears to be some disagreement among members of the interim government that could result in the provision being amended. A senior member of the government said last week that the amnesty offer would not apply to people who have been involved in fatal attacks.
Yawar, however, insisted a comprehensive amnesty was an essential step toward shattering the insurgency. It is a move, he noted, that other nations have employed.
"Did Great Britain at a certain time offer an amnesty" to the Irish Republican Army, he asked. "Why can't we do so? It's for the sake of Iraq, for the sake of regional stability and for the sake even for the sons and daughters of the United States who are graciously helping us."
Yawar and the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, hope the offer will split the insurgency by winning over nationalist Iraqis who have been fighting to evict foreign troops, while isolating foreign Islamic militants who have conducted suicide bomb attacks and assassinations in an attempt to turn Iraq into a battleground for their broader fight against the United States.
"This is to divide them," Yawar said of the amnesty offer. "Let them start having their own feuds so that we can get on with it."
It is not clear, however, how the amnesty would be applied. Because Iraqi security forces have not identified many of the insurgents by name, there are few fugitives for whom the offer would provide a return to a normal life.
Many of them could lay down their arms without a formal amnesty plan and rest confidently, knowing that they would not be apprehended. Government officials acknowledged the planned offer might be more symbolic than substantive, but they contended that it could still persuade some Iraqis to quit the insurgency.
[In other developments, a Philippine official said Tuesday that the country would withdraw its 51 troops from Iraq "as soon as possible" in response to demands by kidnappers holding a Filipino truck driver hostage, the Associated Press reported.
But it was unclear if such a pullout would come ahead of the troops' scheduled Aug. 20 departure.
[The undersecretary of foreign affairs, Rafael Seguis, appeared on the al-Jazeera satellite television network and appealed to the kidnappers holding Angelo de la Cruz to release him. Seguis said his government would pull its troops out "as soon as possible."