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Iraq offers a plan for rebel amnesty

Prime minister excludes attackers

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, unveiled a 24-point national reconciliation initiative yesterday, offering amnesty to insurgents who renounce violence and who have not committed terror attacks.

Maliki's plan lacked important details, but issued specific instructions to Iraqi security forces to take control of the country rapidly, so US and other foreign troops could leave eventually. It did not include a deadline for a withdrawal.

Maliki said Iraq also must deal with militias, which have been linked to a surge in sectarian bloodshed . At least 29 people were killed yesterday in the country.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad congratulated the government on the initiative.

The new government is reaching out to Iraq's disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, which is at the heart of the insurgency, in hopes of enticing Sunnis into taking a place in the new Iraq and into giving up the rebellion.

``To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch," Maliki said before applauding lawmakers. ``And to those who insist on killing and terrorism, we present a fist with the power of law to protect our country and people."

Hours later, the terrorist umbrella organization that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq posted an Internet video showing the purported killing of three of the four Russian Embassy workers kidnapped June 3. A statement said the fourth also was slain.

``God's verdict has been carried out on the Russian diplomats . . . in revenge for the torture, killing, and expulsion of our brothers and sisters by the infidel Russian government," the Mujahedeen Shura Council statement said.

The kidnappers had demanded that the Kremlin pull its troops out of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia where separatists have been fighting for independence for almost 15 years.

While Maliki set no timetable for a US troop pullout, officials in Washington reported that General George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, had drafted a plan for drawing down the US presence by two combat brigades in late summer or in early autumn.

The New York Times said officials had indicated that the reduction could involve the First Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, which patrols a swath of west Baghdad, and the Third Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, in the Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

According to the report, those brigades would not be replaced numerically and their duties would be assumed by US forces from elsewhere in Iraq.

The Times account reported that the Casey plan envisioned eventually cutting US forces from the current 14 brigades to five or six by the end of 2007.

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said that any reduction in forces would depend on the conditions in Iraq and would be made in consultation with the Iraqi government.

``Based on ongoing assessments of the conditions on the ground, force levels could go up or down over time in order to meet the evolving requirements for the mission in Iraq," he said.

Maliki, while calling for amnesty for some rebels and other opposition figures who have not been involved in terrorist activities, declared that insurgent killers would not escape justice.

``The launch of this national reconciliation initiative should not be read as a reward for the killers and criminals or acceptance of their actions," he said.

``No, a thousand times no," Maliki said. ``There can be no agreement with them unless they face the justice."

The prime minister said he was realistic about the difficulties ahead.

``We realize that there is a legion of those who have tread the path of evil [who] . . . will continue with their criminal acts," he said.

Khalilzad urged Iraqi leaders to move quickly to take control of the country.

``The leaders of Iraq's various communities should truly be leaders to their people and begin to take responsibility for bringing sectarian violence to an end," he said. ``I urge the insurgents to lay down their arms and join the democratic process initiated by their fellow Iraqis."

Maliki gave no specific ideas for disbanding sectarian militias and other illegal groups. He said only that the problem should be solved through ``political, economic, and security measures."

Khalilzad suggested that individual militiamen who meet certain criteria could be posted to the regular security forces, while the others get job training and other rehabilitation. He dismissed the idea of a wholesale integration of militias into the security forces.

Maliki said that the time spent in prison by detainees released without charge will be considered part of their mandatory military service and that he wants a general pardon for thousands of prisoners determined not to have committed ``crimes and clear terrorist actions."

The US military reported that a US soldier had been killed in a roadside bombing south of Baqouba on Saturday, raising to 17 the number of US personnel reported killed last week.

In the south of Iraq, Japan moved some of its 600 soldiers into Kuwait as it began the withdrawal of all its forces.

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