Inside Iraq's 'Amnesty' Plan

  • Share
  • Read Later
The "national reconciliation" plan presented over the weekend by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri a-Maliki offered insurgents a scaled-back amnesty proposal, granting indemnity only to "those not proven involved in crimes, terrorist activities and war crimes against humanity." But just what that means is open to interpretation.

Will Iraqis who killed Americans be forgiven in the plan?

It's not clear. Maliki avoided committing to any amnesty for those who have attacked Americans. But the question of who is a terrorist may be answered differently in Iraq and in Washington. Many Iraqi politicians have distinguished between terrorism (attacks targeting Iraqi civilians) and resistance (attacks against the U.S. and allied armies). A paragraph explicitly stating that distinction had reportedly been included in the original draft of Maliki's plan, and was deleted in the final hours of negotiation before it was announced.  Also excised, according to various reports, was a written invitation for "resistance" groups to join a national dialogue. The statement now calls more vaguely for "credible national dialogue" dealing with all the country's different viewpoints. So, the issue appears to have been fudged.

Why would the government consider amnesty for those who have attacked U.S. forces?

The objective of Maliki's "national unity" policy, strongly backed by U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, involves trying to draw the Sunnis, including some mainstream insurgent groups, into the political process. (Though the Al-Qaeda in Iraq element grabs much of the media attention, it accounts for no more than about 10% of the insurgency.) U.S. interests both in stabilizing Iraq and in limiting Iranian influence there depend on drawing the majority of the Sunni community into a new national consensus. But unless the bulk of the insurgents who are mounting most of the daily attacks on Coalition forces are offered a path back into Iraq's political life on terms supported by their community, there's little chance of the new government succeeding where its predecessors have failed. The move to indemnify and recognize the legitimacy of armed "resistance" against U.S. troops is strongly backed by the main Sunni parties in the Iraqi parliament.

Why did Maliki stop short of offering full amnesty to the insurgents?

More than 2,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq by the very insurgents for whom indemnity is being considered by a U.S.-backed government, and giving them amnesty would be a bitter pill for the U.S. to swallow. For Maliki to publicly offer such an amnesty right now is politically unacceptable to Washington.

Even stronger opposition may have come from the main Shiite religious parties that dominate in parliament, and are virulently against concessions that they say rewards the insurgency. They are skeptical of what they see as a U.S. effort to pressure the new government to make concessions to elements that Shiite leaders see as having been the foot-soldiers of the Saddam regime. Shiite opposition appears to have forced Maliki, in the words of one British newspaper, to "trim the olive branch" being offered to the insurgents.

How are insurgents likely to react to Maliki's plan?

Unless those who have attacked U.S. forces are indemnified, they have no incentive to embrace any such deal. Elements such as al-Qaeda, and former senior figures of Saddam's regime who would likely face justice for previous crimes, have little interest in any political solution. Some of the larger rebel groups has already rejected Maliki's overture, dismissing the legitimacy of his government and demanding an end to the U.S. presence in Iraq. But Maliki's proposal excised any reference to U.S. withdrawal. 

The back-room political battles over the scale of his amnesty proposal reveal the depth of the challenge facing Prime Minister Maliki in seeking to reconcile the competing interests of Sunni nationalists, Shiite religious parties and the U.S. After all, for the past three years the differences between those interests have been played out as a low-intensity war.