Maliki announces reconciliation plan to end Iraq's 'ugly picture'

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The Independent Online

The Iraqi leader unveiled a sweeping, 24-point national reconciliation plan on Sunday, offering amnesty to insurgents who renounce violence and have not killed American forces or Iraqis.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's much-anticipated plan lacked important details, but issued specific instructions to his military and police to rapidly take control of the country's security. It included no deadline for withdrawing U.S. and other coalition forces.

"To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch," he told applauding lawmakers. "And to those who insist on killing and terrorism, we present a fist with the power of law to protect our country and people." Hours later, the terrorist umbrella organization that includes al-Qaida in Iraq posted an Internet statement and video announcing the purported killing of four Russian Embassy workers who were kidnapped June 3. A fifth Russian envoy was killed in the hostage-taking.

"God's verdict has been carried out on the Russian diplomats ... in revenge for the torture, killing and expulsion of our brothers and sisters by the infidel Russian government," the Mujahedeen Shura Council statement said. Video of the executions was stamped with the al-Qaida logo. It showed two blindfolded men beheaded and the shooting of a third man. The fourth killing was not shown. The kidnappers had demanded Russia pull its troops out of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in the south of the country where separatists have been fighting Russian forces for independence for nearly 15 years. The Russian Embassy in Baghdad and the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said officials had no information on the claim.

While al-Maliki set no timetable for an American troop pullout, officials in Washington reported that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, had drafted a plan for drawing down the American presence by two combat brigades in late summer or early autumn. The New York Times said the U.S. officials indicated the drawdown could involve the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, which currently oversees a swath of west Baghdad, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, which oversees troublesome Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

According to the report, those brigades would not be replaced numerically. It was expected, however, that their duties would be assumed by U.S. forces from elsewhere in the country. The Times report Sunday said the Casey plan envisioned cutting U.S. forces from 14 combat brigades now in the country to 5 or 6 by the end of next year. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said any reduction in forces continued "to be conditions-based and will be determined in consultation with the Iraqi government. Based on ongoing assessments of the conditions on the ground, force levels could go up or down over time in order to meet the evolving requirements for the mission in Iraq." "Force adjustment decisions are made by the Secretary of Defense at the recommendation of the Multi-National Force commander, Gen. Casey," Johnson told The Associated Press. Al-Maliki, while calling for amnesty for some insurgents and opposition figures who have not been involved in terrorist activities, declared 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. No, a thousand times no. There can be no agreement with them unless they face the justice," he said. The new Iraqi leader, in power just more than 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. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad congratulated the government on the initiative and urged Iraqi leaders to move quickly to take control of the country. "The leaders of Iraq's various communities should truly be leaders to their people, and begin to take responsibility for bringing sectarian violence to an end," he said. "I urge the insurgents to lay down their arms and join the democratic process initiated by their fellow Iraqis."

The plan also 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, Accordance Front leader. The organization represents the three key Sunni political parties in parliament. 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 sessions this week. In the south of Iraq, Japan moved some of its 600 soldiers into Kuwait as it began the total withdrawal of all its forces that were based in Samawah conducting humanitarian and reconstruction projects.

Al-Maliki's much-anticipated reconciliation plan, offered up 12 days after a surprise visit from U.S. President George W. Bush, said compensation should be paid to "those who were killed by Iraqi and American forces" and said time spent in prison by detainees who were later released without charge would be considered as part of their mandatory military service. Al-Maliki also said he wanted 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.

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