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Iraq, insurgents in contact


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi government has had contact through intermediaries with several rebel groups since its announcement of a plan to offer amnesty to insurgents in return for their disarming and submitting to Iraqi law, the prime minister said yesterday.

"Many people contacted me on the day I announced the reconciliation plan, and there is a lot of support even from militias and ... [insurgent] groups," said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "We welcome their assistance, but we are still waiting until we can meet directly with these groups and talk to them in a civilized way in order to bring them into the political process. These groups contacted us indirectly through mediators."

Al-Maliki declined to identify the groups.

The reconciliation plan is al-Maliki's most ambitious proposal to date, coming on the heels of security clampdowns in Baghdad and Basra. He is also in the midst of developing economic and reconstruction proposals meant to present his government as strong and decisive -- focused on national rather than sectarian concerns.

Although many have criticized his plan as too vague or as going too far to appease insurgents, Iraq's disparate political groups appear to be allowing al-Maliki a great deal of political leeway on the basis of his reputation as a pragmatic and objective leader.

"Since his first days in office, he's shown a great understanding and support of the national project," said Ammar Wajeeh of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the main Sunni Arab parliamentary coalition. "He is the first elected Iraqi prime minister who addressed the issue of reconciliation matched with a security plan. The reconciliation is an official recognition of the existence of the resistance ... as distinguished from the terrorist groups."

Abbas Bayati, a Shiite lawmaker, said that al-Maliki's efforts have made it clear that he is willing to take a different tack than his predecessors.

"In addition to force," Bayati said, "he would like to give space for policy and dialogue with the resistance. He would like to use the policy of stick and carrot."

On Sunday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke of "a lot more dynamism and activity" by al-Maliki than by his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "Quite a lot has already been done in terms of considering issues and deciding on them," Khalilzad said.

Despite al-Maliki's reputation among Iraq's political elite, he has been constrained by members of his Shiite bloc, who are wary of any plan that might appear to appease Sunni insurgents.

Al-Maliki insisted that "amnesty doesn't include those who have killed Iraqis or even coalition forces, because those soldiers came to Iraq under international agreements to help Iraq."

"The fighter who did not kill anyone will be included in the amnesty," al-Maliki said. "But the fighter who killed someone will not be included."

It was not immediately clear how the program might determine which fighters fall in which category. Al-Maliki said that extending amnesty to violent insurgents would be impossible because it would violate the rights of relatives seeking justice for their loved ones killed in insurgent attacks.

"There are demands for general amnesty, but in my opinion this is wrong," said al-Maliki. "We have people we have detained who have confessed to killing 10, 20, 50, 100 Iraqis and Americans. It would result in a very bad reaction among Iraqis whose family members have been killed by those people, or even Americans with families who have been killed by those people."

After the announcement of his plan, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers condemned any move that would pardon insurgents who had attacked American soldiers.

Asked to specify who would be eligible for amnesty, al-Maliki said only those who have not committed violent acts.

"We divide crimes into two parts," he said. "One is related to blood and killing, and the other is related to opposing the government and sabotaging government institutions."

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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