Iraqi Government Considers Pardons for Thousands of Prisoners

The Iraqi government is considering pardons for several thousand people convicted of insurgency-related offenses as a move toward national reconciliation, Iraqi officials said Monday.

As a first step, a committee is being formed to study the legal aspects, including what offenses might be excluded and whether any pardon would require parliamentary approval.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the move is in the preparation stages and has not been formally announced.

But Sunni lawmaker Nasser al-Ani, who is in charge of President Jalal Talabani's office, said any pardons must be in line with the Iraqi constitution, which could require parliamentary approval.

That could complicate the process because different Sunni and Shiite factions would haggle over the percentages of each sectarian group covered by pardons.

The officials stressed that the pardons would be limited to those convicted of offenses rather than the tens of thousands held without charge by both U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has said he plans drastic cuts in the number of Iraqis in U.S. custody — about 25,000 — by the end of the year.

Sunni politicians, notably Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, have been pushing the government to release thousands of detainees, most of whom are believed to be Sunnis.

Sunni leaders believe the recent Sunni revolt against al-Qaida offers an opportunity to win over the majority of the religious community most hostile to both the U.S. military presence and the Shiite-led Iraqi government.