Iraq Reconciliation Plan Is Short on Details
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.
Whether we call it a civil war or not, Iraqis have been killing each other by the thousands. The killings take place in a country where many families feel honor-bound to seek revenge. And so now, after all that bloodshed, Iraq's new prime minister faces the job of bringing his country together.
Yesterday Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented a national reconciliation plan. It includes in very general terms a reconstruction campaign, a plan for job construction and an amnesty for some Iraqi insurgents.
That last point's among the most hotly debated as NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad:
JAMIE TARABAY, reporting:
The plan underwent a series of revisions before it appeared during yesterday's parliament session. There had been talk that an amnesty would extend to those responsible for attacks against U.S. forces. But in the final version, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made no distinction between those who killed Americans and those who killed Iraqis. And there was no room for any of them in this amnesty.
Mr. NOURI AL-MALIKI (Prime Minister, Iraq): (foreign language spoken):
TARABAY: The pardon, he says, is for those who were never involved in terrorist crimes, and war crimes, and crimes against humanity. He wants tribal and religious leaders to be more accountable and stop inciting violence within their communities. He also wants insurgent groups to make a pledge to renounce violence, back the state and the new political reality.
But other than saying that militias should not be working for competing political groups and interfering with the political process, Maliki had no more mention of militias in his plan.
One of the biggest problems with the militias has been their integration into the security forces. During the previous interim government, Shiite militias in particular joined the police force hundreds at a time, essentially swapping uniforms. In the eyes of many Sunnis, it's made the police force an extension of Shiite political parties.
Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi heartily supported the plan during the parliamentary session. But outside he railed at the gaps in Maliki's proposal.
Mr. Adnan al-Dulaimi (Sunni Leader, Baghdad Iraq): (Through Translator)How can a person who has no military education be appointed colonel or brigadier? We have to have the right man in the right place. We don't want to cut people's livelihoods or increase unemployment. In fact, one of the things that the government should handle is solving the problem of unemployment. And infrastructure.
TARABAY: Speaking to reporters later, American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said there was still a lot to work out on the issue of militias.
Dr. ZALMAY KHALILZAD (United States Ambassador to Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq): Some people as individuals could get integrated into security forces, provided they meet certain criteria and conditions. Others would have to be trained or reintegrated, trained for new jobs for which there are demands, or reintegrated in other ways in terms of the society at large.
TARABAY: Maliki's plan calls for a job creation scheme. It also outlines plans to compensate victims of the former regime, and it includes the launching of regional talks to get Iraq's neighbors on side, and work together to prevent any more foreign fighters from entering Iraq and taking part in attacks against U.S. and Iraqi targets. U.S. officials will be involved in discussions that detail who will be allowed into the amnesty, and who won't. Ambassador Khalilzad:
KHALILZAD: I've had enough conversations to say that I can say that with some confidence. That those who have lost their lives to liberate this country, provide this historic opportunity, that their sacrifice will be respected.
TARABAY: Last night a group connected to al-Qaida released a video showing the killing and beheading of kidnapped Russian embassy workers. But even as foreign fighters continue their attacks, it's the issue of militias that is most important to Iraqis.
Standing outside a watch store in Baghdad's downtown district, a man who would only give his first name, Mohammed(ph), said he was disappointed Prime Minister Maliki didn't offer anything concrete in dealing with militias.
Mr. MOHAMMED: (Iraqi citizen, Baghdad): (Through Translator) This is what's occupying us right now. This is the only thing we think about.
TARABAY: Dozens of bodies are brought to Baghdad's main morgue each day. Most of them unidentified men killed with gunshots to the head. This weekend more than 170 bodies came through the morgue's doors. For Iraqis like Mohommad, this is what militias do here, whether they are Sunni or Shiite. And they must be stopped.
MOHAMMED: (Through Translator) Militias now have become stronger than the government, and they can do everything. It wouldn't be in our interest if they joined the government. They must be disbanded.
TARABAY: On Friday, Iraqi security forces closed down streets in the capital Center, and the government extended a noon curfew after militias began fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces and fighting each other.
Militias control security in some areas of Baghdad. Some are there with the silent cooperation of the Iraqi security forces, and some are there because the Iraqi security forces can't stop them.
Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.