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Iraqi PM offers olive branch to insurgents

Iraq’s prime minister presented a plan for national reconciliation to parliament on Sunday, but Nuri al-Maliki was short on detail on how he will end Iraq's insurgency.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday offered an olive branch to insurgents who join in rebuilding Iraq and said lawmakers should set a timeline for the Iraqi military and police to take control of security throughout the country.

The prime minister made no mention of any timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in a 24-point national reconciliation plan he presented to parliament.

The plan would include an amnesty for insurgents and opposition figures who have not been involved in terrorist activities. Al-Maliki stressed that insurgent killers would not escape justice.

“The launch of this national reconciliation initiative should not be read as a reward for the killers and criminals or acceptance of their actions,” he said. “There can be no agreement with them unless they face the justice.”

The Iraqi leader, who has been in power just over a month, said he was realistic about the difficult road that lay ahead.

“We realize that there is a legion of those who have tread the path of evil (who) ... will continue with their criminal acts,” he said.

But he held out an offer of peace to those who renounce violence, while threatening retribution and punishment to those who do not.

“To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch ... And to those who insist on killing and terrorism, we present a fist with the power of law to protect our country and people,” he told lawmakers, who applauded his speech.

The plan won the endorsement of the senior Sunni political figure in parliament.

“In the name of Iraqi Accordance Front, I support and agree with this initiative and call upon all Iraqis to support it because it will be the first step toward security, stability and the building new Iraq,” said Adnan al-Dulaimi, the leader of Accordance Front, which represents the three key Sunni political parties in parliament.

Iraqi troop timeline
The Iraqi parliament was to debate the plan, which is believed to face considerable opposition among hard-liners on both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide.

In southern Iraq, the first of Japan’s force of 600 soldiers started withdrawing from the country, crossing the border into Kuwait, according to Associated Press reporters and the Japanese Defense Agency

The Japanese withdrawal began with the departure of about 15 vehicles transporting trucks, bulldozers and equipment from the provincial capital of Samawah early Sunday morning for the 210-mile journey south to Kuwait. Japanese troops were conducting a humanitarian and reconstruction mission.

Al-Maliki’s reconciliation plan said there should be a timeline established for Iraqi forces to take over all security duties in the country. It included no specifics on the withdrawal of American and British forces, a Shiite lawmaker told The Associated Press.

Al-Maliki said the general amnesty would exclude “those who committed crimes against the Iraqi people.”

The most controversial section of the amnesty plan was left ambiguous. Initially it was said to have excluded only those who had killed Iraqi people. But in parliament Sunday, al-Maliki spoke of refusing amnesty to those who had committed terrorist acts, apparently including attacks on American military personnel.

The plan also seeks compensation for former detainees “and those who were killed by Iraqi and American forces.” Time spent in prison would be considered as part of a former detainee’s mandatory military service.

An early draft of the plan also called for a general pardon for thousands of prisoners who are determined not to have committed “crimes and clear terrorist actions.”

Hundreds of prisoners have been pardoned and release in recent months in what is seen as a bid by the Shiite-dominated government to appease Sunni Arab anger over allegations of random detentions and maltreatment.

The proposal also would set rules of engagement for military offensives, requiring military leaders to take into consideration and special conditions that might indicate an attack is not warranted.

That was seen as a bid to alleviate Sunni anger over the alleged killing of innocent civilians and bystanders by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The reconciliation plan also would call for a reconsideration of policies against supporters of former President Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath party.

The plan said a dialogue should be opened with all organizations willing to participate in the political process “except al-Qaida” and hard-line supporters of Saddam.

Troop reductions
Shortly after taking office May 20, al-Maliki vowed to take over security responsibilities from American and other foreign troops in all of Iraq’s 18 provinces within 18 months.

He already has announced plans to take over security from coalition forces in the southern province of Muthanna next month and Japan ordered the withdrawal of its 600 ground troops home from the area.

The New York Times reported that U.S. Gen. George W. Casey Jr. has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence in Iraq, with the number of American combat brigades projected to decrease to 5 or 6 from the current level of 14 by the end of 2007.

The first reductions would involve two combat brigades that would rotate out of Iraq in September without being replaced, according to the plan Combat brigades, which generally have about 3,500 troops, do not make up the bulk of the 127,000-member American force in Iraq.

The report cited officials describing a classified briefing at the Pentagon this week by Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Military officials in Iraq, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition on anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the information, said there were plans to start the withdrawal by pulling out two brigades in late summer or early fall. Those troops could include forces currently based in the west of Baghdad and in Salaheddin province to the north of the capital.

The administration has repeatedly said that U.S. troops will stay in Iraq until Iraqi security forces can defend the country against a lethal insurgency that rose up after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Casey said earlier this week that he expected reductions in U.S. forces this year but did not agree with congressional efforts to put a timetable on the effort.