Iraqi PM Seeks Stability in Offer of Amnesty

What are the implications of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s "national reconciliation plan?" One component is an amnesty offer to some insurgents who embrace Iraq's government — including some who have attacked U.S. targets. New York University law school professor Noah Feldman discusses the plan with Madeleine Brand.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

To Iraq now.

Today, one of Iraq's largest Sunni-Arab groups endorsed a plan of national reconciliation. The plan was presented Sunday by Iraq's prime minister in an attempt to end the country's violent insurgency. According to Iraqi politicians, as many as seven insurgent groups have approached the government ready to start talks. Noah Feldman is a former constitutional advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and joins us now. Welcome back to the program.

Professor NOAH FELDMAN (Professor of Law, New York University; Former constitutional adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq): Thanks for having me.

BRAND: How hopeful are you about news that some of these groups have accepted the truce, or at least are willing to talk about the truce?

Prof. FELDMAN: It's good that people are coming to the table, and it's also good that the government sent them a signal that they should come to the table by this sort of 24-point plan, which is pretty vague, but was basically meant to say we're open for business.

BRAND: What are some of the points that you think are important in this plan?

Prof. FELDMAN: The point that's gotten so much attention in the United States -which is the question of amnesty - is I think probably not the most important point for Iraqis. Probably the most important points were promises of compensation across the board for people who have been harmed, no matter who's harmed them - promises of jobs broadly spread out across the country, promises to investigate allegations of human rights abuses - including rights abuses by the government itself - and promises that militias - and, in particular, one has in mind the Shia militias - will be disbanded and folded into the government itself. Now it's not clear the government can deliver on those things, but those are things that are very important to the insurgents.

BRAND: Do you think that these points will go a long way to ending some of the violence? Because as I understand it, outside groups such as the al-Qaida groups operating in Iraq are willing to accept these deals.

Prof. FELDMAN: What needs to happen in Iraq is really a two-stage process. First, the Sunni insurgents who are Iraqis themselves - and who are relatively moderate insofar as they don't want to just have violence for the sake of violence on its own - have to cut a deal with the government that satisfies them. And that at really means for them jobs, employment opportunities, things they can bring back to their supporters and say look - we got the best deal we could get, and we're willing to put down our weapons. Then those folks need to work with the government to eliminate - either by kicking them out or by killing them - the international jihadi types, and some Iraqi's who sympathize with them, who don't want peace under any circumstances. Without the help of the former insurgents, the government I don't think is going to be capable on its own. And the U.S. is certainly not capable of getting rid of these jihadis.

BRAND: You wrote recently in the New York Times that the United States appears to be changing its strategy significantly. It, it formerly thought that military might would bring the country back to peace and stabilize the country, but now it's shifting its strategy to encouraging a political solution. Is that working?

Prof. FELDMAN: It hasn't worked yet. And I think the reason that our government has shifted to saying that politics is our only solution is that the military approach - which was the approach we began with - just hasn't worked. So we've got to rely on politics. Now so far, politics hasn't yet done the trick, but really, we're just entering the first period now where it will have a chance to do so. Because this is the first time that we've had an elected government that represents all of the different parts of Iraq, and that government has to have a chance to do the negotiating that would enable Sunnis to decide that there's something to their benefit about participating in a peaceful democratic form of government.

BRAND: But is this more a strategy for us to withdraw, or is it a strategy to bring democracy to Iraq, and in fact, democracy to the Middle East?

Prof. FELDMAN: It's no longer a strategy oriented just toward the production of democracy. It's really a strategy oriented just towards avoiding sending Iraq into a much deeper civil war than it's in already. I think if we get some positive form of democratic government out of it, everyone will be very happy about that in the U.S. But it's not - that's not the reason we're doing it at this point. We're doing it because we need some sort of an exit strategy.

BRAND: So our goals have changed significantly.

Prof. FELDMAN: Yes, I think they're must more modest than they were, initially. Initially, the idea was not just to produce democracy, but to do it in a way that others in the region would look at and say what do you know, democracy can work in this region. Now - to the extent we're talking about democracy at all -we're really just talking about it as the only thing that can save the country from collapse. Now I happen to believe that only power sharing among the different groups in Iraq can save the country from collapse, and that means we are going to need to see something that looks very roughly democratic. But it will not look like a role model for countries elsewhere in the region, because it comes out of profound instability and nobody wants that in their own country.

BRAND: Noah Feldman is a Professor at New York University School of Law. He's the author of the new book What We Owe Iraq. Thank you, Noah.

Prof. FELDMAN: Thank you.

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