Lawmakers denounce amnesty plan

Monday, June 26, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress on Sunday denounced any Iraqi plan that would grant amnesty to insurgents responsible for the deaths of U.S. troops.

As part of a plan to mend sectarian strife, Iraq's prime minister has proposed extending amnesty to insurgents and opposition figures who have not been involved in terrorist activities.

Lawmakers are still trying to ascertain the details of the reconciliation plan that Nouri al-Maliki released Sunday. It came out after a week of intense debate in Washington over the deployment of U.S. forces and political posturing on the war months before November's elections.

The new government is reaching out to Iraq's disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, which is at the heart of the insurgency, in hopes of enticing Sunnis into taking a place in the new Iraq and giving up the rebellion.

"To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch," al-Maliki 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."

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said extending amnesty to anyone responsible for killing U.S. troops was "unconscionable."

"For heaven's sake, we liberated that country," Levin said on "Fox News Sunday."

"We got rid of a horrific dictator. We've paid a tremendous price. More than 2,500 Americans have given up their lives. The idea that they should even consider talking about amnesty for people who have killed people who liberated their country is unconscionable," he said.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that while he opposes amnesty, the United States must respect Iraq's sovereign right to decide its own future.

He said the U.S. government will not dictate, but will consult with Iraqi officials on all aspects of the plan.

"I want the Iraqi people to take this decision unto themselves and make it correctly," Warner said. "And I hope it comes out ... no amnesty for anyone who committed an act of violence, of war crimes."

In presenting the plan to the Iraqi parliament, al-Maliki said Sunday that insurgent killers would not escape justice regardless of whether their victims were Iraqis or U.S.-led coalition forces.

"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," al-Maliki said.

The White House welcomed the initiative, yet did not comment specifically on Iraqi plans to embrace certain insurgents, saying the plan was still being developed.

"Reconciliation must be an Iraqi process, led by Iraqis," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said. "We, of course, stand by, ready to assist in this effort -- if the Iraqis request our help. But it's important to note that this is the first step, and it's a process that will take time to fully develop."

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said if there is to be peace in Iraq, al-Maliki must find a formula for moving forward that is acceptable to all. "I'm hopeful that one of elements of the formula that he presents to the Sunnis is not amnesty because that is going to run into solid opposition, obviously, in the United States," Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation."

Al-Maliki's plan lacked important details, but issued specific instructions to Iraqi security forces to rapidly take control of the country so U.S. and other foreign troops can leave eventually. It did not include a deadline for their withdrawal.

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.

Proposal highlights

Offer amnesty to insurgents not involved in terrorism, war crimes, crimes against humanity.

* Form committees to examine the release of detainees not found guilty of crimes.

* Prevent human rights violations, reform of prisons and punishment of those responsible for torture.

* Discuss with U.S.-led coalition to establish mechanisms to prevent abuses of civilians.

* Build up forces to open way for coalition's withdrawal.

-- The Associated Press

-- Adopt immediate steps to upgrade services, especially in restive areas.

-- Start large-scale reconstruction campaign in all Iraqi areas and creation of jobs.

-- Study build-up process to ensure army and police forces formed on professional and national basis.

-- Support victims of Saddam Hussein's former regime and provide compensation.

-- Compensate victims of terrorism, human rights violations and military operations.

-- Designate judicial system as sole authority in dealing with the crimes of senior members of the former regime, terrorists and gangs.

-- Ensure separation of political and military spheres.

-- Address problem of sectarian militias and illegal armed groups through political, economic and security measures.

-- Recognize parliament, constitution, government and other institutions as sole legitimate representative of the will of the Iraqi people.

-- Ensure all arrest and search operations are in accord with official and judicial orders, and based on credible information and in accordance with human rights.

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