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Iraq expected to introduce amnesty plan


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is expected to unveil a national amnesty plan today, the first formal attempt since the invasion of Iraq to come to terms with the problems that make this divided country a governing nightmare.

The move comes against a backdrop of violence that led to a lockdown of the capital last week and claimed the lives of more U.S. troops, with three soldiers reported dead yesterday. In the past week, the Pentagon has released the names of 11 soldiers and six Marines killed in Iraq.

Al-Maliki's reconciliation plan, which is expected to be presented to Parliament at its regular session today, would be among the Iraqi government's most ambitious attempts yet to begin uniting this fractious society. One major area of concern is how al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, will deal with the country's Sunnis, who dominated the country under Saddam Hussein.

Key to the 28-point proposal is the removal of armed groups from the streets by opening a dialogue with them. Some of the provisions of the plan include a limited amnesty for low-level Sunni insurgents and groups, as well as "solving the problem" of the Shiite militias that have become a fixture on the streets, some of whom have been accused of serving as death squads that target Sunnis.

The plan calls for a buildup of security forces so that multinational forces can leave the country. But there is no timeline for a pullout, as called for by some Sunni politicians.

Hassan Bazzaz, a University of Baghdad political scientist, said he believed al-Maliki's proposal will be a "step in the right direction." But he also said the gaps were wide between those involved in the discussions.

"The picture looks very gloomy for a quick and good solution," he said. "Every Iraqi is facing the same problem. When I leave my house, I feel insecure. Everyone is sharing this problem we are facing."

Bazzaz said the key is controlling militias, which would lead to a more stable environment.

"We cannot talk about the militias without talking about the parties with the guns - whether you call them insurgents or militias," he said. "They are all involved in carrying guns and killing each other."

Mithal Alusi, an independent member of Parliament, likened the Baghdad street scene to that of the organized gangland days in the United States.

"You have done it in Chicago with the Mafia," he said. "Now we must stop our mafia here."

To do that, he said, would require American help, not only to stabilize the country but also to block the efforts to influence Iraq by countries such as Syria and Iran.

"We can only succeed if we do it together," he said.

Amid efforts at reconciliation, the violence continued to mount.

Three U.S. soldiers were reported killed in Baghdad, raising the total number of American military personnel who have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to at least 2,520. One soldier died yesterday from injuries sustained in a bombing while a foot patrol south of Baghdad, the military said in a news release.

Another was killed early Friday morning when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in central Baghdad. The third died in an unspecified "noncombat incident" in Baghdad on Friday afternoon, the military said.

Also in Baghdad, a roadside bomb was detonated next to an Iraqi police patrol, killing two policemen and wounding three others.

And in the northern city of Kirkuk, the local head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Services, his deputy and bodyguard were killed when their car was struck by a remote-controlled car bomb.

Three other civilians died after they were sprayed by gunfire from a passing motor vehicle as they sat in a shop in the strife-riddled city of Baqubah, northeast of the capital, police said.

The New York Times reported that the top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the U.S. military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

According to a classified briefing at the Pentagon this week by the commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the number of American combat brigades in Iraq is projected to decrease to five or six from the current level of 14 by December 2007, the Times reported.

According to the Times, Casey's briefing has remained a closely held secret, and it was described by American officials who agreed to discuss the details only on condition of anonymity.

J. Michael Kennedy writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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