Under intense pressure from leaders of the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a greatly softened national reconciliation plan when his National Assembly met Sunday. The UIA, which includes Maliki's own Dawa Party, met in an emergency session late Saturday night to hammer out the changes, removing any explicit mention of amnesty for insurgents, or of a timetable for withdrawal of coalition forces.
Four key clauses were taken out, including one that insisted on distinguishing between "national resistance" forces and "terrorists", and another one that would reverse the dismissals of many former Baathist party officials under the country's deBaathfication program. Explicit language about controlling party militias and "death squads" was missing as well from the final draft. That left a much vaguer statement of principles, but one that everyone could agree to put on the table. Maliki's aides insisted that they would press to restore the deleted principles as the National Assembly continues to debate the plan, and said that an amnesty is implicit in calls to negotiate with all segments of Iraqi society.
Maliki has already announced the release of 2,500 security detainees during this month as a gesture to insurgents. But it's unclear if the prime minister will be able to overcome strong opposition to amnesty from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Party in Iraq, SCIRI, the largest party in the UIA.
In an interview with NEWSWEEK today, Abdul Aziz al Hakim, SCIRI's leader, all but ruled out talking to the resistance. "So far I haven't seen any honest resistance," he said. "It has not been proved there is any honest resistance. All we have seen are terrorist groups who have killed all Iraqis. How can we recognize such groups?" Maliki himself was more conciliatory when he presented the plan to the assembly on Sunday. "To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch," he said. "And to those who insist on killing and terrorism, we present a fist with the power of law to protect our country." At a press conference after the session, U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said, "I urge the insurgents to lay down their arms and join the democratic process." Without some form of amnesty, it's difficult to see how they would ever do that.