Iraq amnesty plan readied


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi government has crafted a far-reaching amnesty plan for insurgents, officials close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday, even as guerrillas killed at least 34 Iraqis in a barrage of bombs and rockets in the capital and the U.S. military hunted for two missing American soldiers.

The Americans might have been captured by hostile forces after an attack on a checkpoint south of the capital Friday evening that left at least one other soldier dead, the military said. As the day wore on, U.S. forces dispatched helicopters and surveillance planes over the area as well as dive teams to scour the river and nearby canals for the missing soldiers.

The amnesty plan, which apparently includes many insurgents who have staged attacks against Americans and Iraqis, calls for the creation of a national committee and local subcommittees to welcome insurgents and begin a "truthful national dialogue in dealing with contradicting visions and stances," according to a version of the plan published in an Iraqi newspaper yesterday.

If adopted, the reconciliation plan would be among the Iraqi government's most comprehensive attempts to engage insurgents.

"The main thing is that there are no clear, red lines for the participation of the bloody-handed people in the political process," said Haidar al-Abadi, a leader of al-Maliki's Dawa Party, a major part of the dominant Shiite political coalition.

The plan, quickly and mysteriously released and rescinded by the prime minister's office last week, calls for a prisoner release and pardons for those "not proven guilty in crimes and clear terrorist activities" and a review of the process by which former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party are removed from public life.

U.S. and some Iraqi officials have long urged Sunni insurgent groups without strong ties to the former regime's security apparatus or to foreign militants -- and without the blood of innocent Iraqis on their hands -- to lay down their weapons and join the political process.

The new proposal, said one official close to al-Maliki, merely recognizes the difficulty of verifying insurgents' past actions.

"Theoretically, we can say we cannot give any amnesty to those in the [former] security agencies and those in Saddam's regime and those who have killed and bombed Iraqis after the invasion," said Salah Abdul Razzaq, a spokesman for several prominent Shiite religious organizations.

"In practice, anyone who comes to negotiations and says, 'I have no problem with Iraqis or Iraqi government, just with U.S. forces,' how can we check that?"

Some Kurds and Shiites in parliament, which is scheduled to convene today, harbored doubts about al-Maliki's reconciliation proposal. "We think that any reconciliation talks should take place within parliament," said Baha Araji, a Shiite lawmaker close to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's movement. "We don't need groups from outside -- I mean the Saddamists, Baathists and killers."

But officials close to al-Maliki said the plan was days away from being announced formally.

A version of the amnesty plan -- titled the "Reconciliation and National Dialogue Project" -- was published in the al-Mada newspaper after copies were distributed to journalists and then quickly taken away during an abruptly canceled news conference Thursday at al-Maliki's office.

Al-Abadi called the incident a minor mix-up caused by inexperienced members of the prime minister's media office.

"It doesn't mean that the project of reconciliation was withdrawn, but that it was given more time for a consensus to be reached," said Abbas Bayati, a leading Shiite lawmaker. "We are ready to sit around a table with all the Iraqis, even those who participated in the resistance and now repent that."

It was unclear whether any amnesty plan would require legislative approval or be adopted by executive decision.

The insurgency showed no signs of abating yesterday. Dozens of Iraqis were killed in a series of insurgent attacks targeting Iraqi security forces in the capital despite a highly publicized security crackdown meant to bolster public confidence in the government.

At least seven large explosions rocked the capital. In the day's most deadly incident, a car bomb explosion at 8 p.m. in the busy market of southwest Baghdad killed 12 people and injured 38 others, police said.

Earlier, another car bomb targeting a passing police patrol killed seven people and injured 11, hospital officials said.

A roadside bomb in downtown Baghdad killed six and wounded 15. A car bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol in central Baghdad killed three civilians and a soldier while injuring eight soldiers and four police officers.

A bomb placed inside a passenger bus killed at least two civilians and injured 15, police said. Mortar rounds landing on a market in the northern suburb of Kadhimiya killed at least two and injured 14. Another man was killed in an explosion in west Baghdad, hospital officials said.

The search for the missing U.S. soldiers was under way near the Euphrates River town of Yusufiyah. U.S. forces launched four raids on locations suspected of holding the soldiers, questioned local leaders and put in roadblocks around the area, presumably to prevent assailants from taking the soldiers elsewhere, the military said.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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