Iraq reconciliation plan inspired by South Africa

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will offer an amnesty to some rebel groups and call for the disarmament of militias as part of a 28-point national reconciliation plan to stem violence, a lawmaker said on Saturday.

Mahmud Othman said the plan, to be presented to Parliament on Sunday, aims to “offer amnesty to everyone except war criminals and those who have killed innocent Iraqis”.

“The plan aims to open dialogue with all insurgent groups except al-Qaeda and Saddamists, and to disarm militias,” Othman, a Kurd, said.

He said the plan demands a “timetable for the build-up of armed forces to control the security situation so that the role of coalition forces will come to an end”.

Othman said the reconciliation plan will offer compensation to families of civilians killed by “coalition troops and those who have been wrongly detained, especially civil servants who lost out on career opportunities”.

The plan will also focus on improving Iraqis’ standard of living, he said.

Minister of State for National Security Shirwan al-Waili, a Shi’ite close to al-Maliki, welcomed the plan, calling it “a broad policy with political, social and economic ramifications” and saying it “addressed the entire Iraqi society”.

Sunni Arab MP Salim Abdullah also welcomed it, but said the “devil was in the details”. He said it will only work if the amnesty extends to as many armed groups willing to enter dialogue as possible.

“The opportunity is ripe to attract all national forces,” he said.

The plan, first mentioned by al-Maliki on June 6, was inspired by post-apartheid South Africa. It aims to heal the rifts that have torn Iraq’s multi-confessional society apart since the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Arab-dominated regime in April 2003.

Already, as a gesture of goodwill, al-Maliki approved the release this month of about 2 500 prisoners held in United States and Iraqi prisons, most of them Sunnis.

President Jalal Talabani, who announced his backing for al-Maliki’s plan on Wednesday, had said an amnesty for those who had borne arms against the government will be offered provided they rejoin the political mainstream.

“National reconciliation will be open to everyone and this will be explicitly stated by the prime minister when he presents it,” Talabani said.

Since taking office in April 2005, Talabani, a Kurd, has repeatedly called for an amnesty to be offered to Sunni Arab insurgents.

But his calls have previously gone unheeded because of opposition from the US military and Shi’ite hard-liners who dominate Parliament.

So far the strongest opposition to al-Maliki’s plan has come from hard-liners in his own Shi’ite camp.

“We reject this project completely—no dialogue with Saddamists and takfiris,” Falah Shanshal, a lawmaker close to radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said in reference to Saddam loyalists and Sunni extremists.

Earlier, Qassem Dawood, another MP from al-Maliki’s bloc, met the Shi’ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf and declared afterwards: “No reconciliation with terrorists.
This plan may or may not pass. There is no way the government can cut deals without parliamentary oversight.”

Although some Sunnis have joined the political process, many have yet to reconcile themselves to losing power to the Shi’ite majority.

Some continue to wage a bloody insurgency that has degenerated into a sectarian war and killed thousands.

The biggest obstacle to reconciliation is “severe lack of confidence” among the country’s feuding factions, the head of the Arab League mission to Baghdad, Mokhtar Lamani, said on Thursday.

Many Sunnis believe they are the target of militias linked to Shi’ite ruling parties, while Shi’ites have a deep-seated suspicion towards any potential reconciliation partner after a wave of attacks that has hit the community hard since the destruction of a revered shrine in February.

In violence on the ground on Saturday, nine people were killed, including five in separate shootings in Baquba, north of Baghdad.

The head of intelligence services in the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Brigadier General Musa al-Hadidi, his deputy and a bodyguard were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, police said.

In Baghdad, rebel attacks on police patrols killed one civilian.

The US military on Saturday briefly detained a Sunni cleric in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, triggering protests in the city. It said it did not know Sheikh Jamal Abdul Rahman al-Dabban was a senior sheikh when he was picked up during a raid.

The US military also announced the deaths of three troops.—Sapa-AFP

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