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Sunni Factions React to Maliki Amnesty Initiative

Earlier in the week ThreatsWatch reported on the reconciliation plan of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki and initial reactions from Sunnis political leaders as well as armed factions which continue to fight coalition forces. As initially reported, the amnesty would cover all but terrorists and hardcore Saddamists. Maliki has further clarified that the amnesty will not include killers of American soldiers, but will include members of the Shia militias, subject to the condition that they have not intentionally killed civilians (Washington Post, Al-Hayat). Several Sunni groups have contacted the government and indicated willingness to discuss reconciliation (Reuters), although their size and significance has been questioned. Some Iraqi insurgents, including the Baath, the former ruling party, have rejected even considering it.

Among Sunnis committed to the political process, reactions ranged from qualified acceptance to criticism of the plan as being inadequate. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, a member of the Shia faction SCIRI, along with second deputy prime minister Tariq Hashemi, the government’s highest-ranking Sunni Arab, described the plan as “inadequate” but nevertheless as being a “first step” in reconciliation. The Al-Hayat article linked above quotes briefly from an interview with Abd al-Mahdi in the French newspaper Liberation (“Adel Abdel-Mahdi, le vice-president irakien, tend la main aux insurges: ‘On ne poursuit pas les anciens baasistes, mai les criminels’”), in which he takes a different perspective from Maliki, emphasizing that being Baathist is not criminal itself, but that some individual Baathists would be ineligible. Abd al-Mahdi also endorsed a statement by Hashemi that the lack of a timeline for the withdrawal of American troops was a concern, but that this did not invalidate the initiative, as all factions in parliament had endorsed it. Abd al-Mahdi indicated that now the factions would set up committees representing all sides which would decide upon both the release of prisoners and eligibility for the amnesty plan.

Al-Hayat did include criticism from within Maliki’s ruling United Iraqi Alliance, from the Sadr faction. It quoted Buha al-Arji, a Sadr spokesman, as saying that “dialogue with the militants is in contradiction with the manner of its implementation because the government cannot distinguish between those implicated in crimes and those not, or between those who killed Iraqis and those who killed Americans.” Since Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been accused of killing Sunni civilians as well as Sunni terrorists, Sadr may be pressing for a more general amnesty.

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Rafidayn discusses the views of several Arab commentators on the issue. A couple suggested that new elections under a new census would be necessary, although that seems unlikely given the effort required for the formation of the current government. Legal analyst Tariq Harb suggested that the impact would not be great on the street since the groups didn’t have much popular basis, and may have only included 50-60 armed members in each faction. Others saw a greater turnaround more likely. Najar Samrani Fisher emphasized that the initiative only applied to Iraqis, not non-Iraqi Arabs fighting in the country. Given the government’s unwillingness at the present time to identify the specific groups seeking reconciliation, a certain degree of speculation is inherent in calculating the amnesty initiative’s likely effect.
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Sowell is an Arabic linguist, attorney and the author of The Arab World: An Illustrated History. You can read more about his book at his website, Arab World Analysis.

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Great analysis. Unfortunately, we will only know once it actually goes into effect. I am hoping for the best, which includes no amnesty for anyone who killed Americans. Unless, of course, we can release each and everyone of ours that kill them. Hmm...(BTW, I don't believe they did, but PR. Ya know? lol)

Rosemary,

Thanks. I've got follow-up pieces coming, but right now some progress has been made, as some Sunni insurgent groups have announced an armistice. But others have not, and al-Qaeda in Iraq is still active, as we saw this Saturday. I don't think that it is going to be realistic to expect all who kill American troops be tried, and this isn't something that the U.S. has demanded in the past as a price for peace, such as in WWII. What matters is that the Sunnis irrevocably commit to the political process and lay down their arms.

People seem to forget that Shia insurgents in Iraq received a complete amnesty when they joined the political process. Muqtada al Sadr and his Al Mahdi militia received a total amnesty despite killing a number of American soldiers. How can we possibly get the Sunnis totally into the political process without some kind of amnesty?

Yes, and Sadr has rejected the amnesty; the way they originally explained it, it seemed like they thought that it should be broader. They were objecting to Maliki's statement that killers of Americans would not be included. I'll be writing more on the Shia internal dynamics soon.