Iraqi PM Offers Amnesty to Insurgents; U.S. Drawdown Plan Reported

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

Nouri al-Maliki 's much-anticipated plan lacked important details, but issued specific instructions to Iraqi security forces to rapidly take control of the country so U.S. and other foreign troops can leave eventually. It did not include a deadline for their withdrawal.

Al-Maliki said Iraq also must deal with the problem of militias, which are blamed for a surge of sectarian bloodshed that has worsened violence in Iraq — where at least 29 people were killed Sunday.

CountryWatch: Iraq

U.S. 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 giving up the rebellion.

"To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch," al-Maliki told 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 the Kremlin pull its troops out of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia where separatists have been fighting for independence for nearly 15 years.

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

The New York Times said officials indicated the reduction could involve the 1st Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, which patrols a swath of west Baghdad, and the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, in troublesome Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.

According to the report, those brigades would not be replaced numerically and their duties would be assumed by U.S. forces from elsewhere in Iraq. The Times said the Casey plan envisioned eventually cutting U.S. forces from the current 14 brigades to five or six by the end of 2007.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said any reduction in forces would depend on conditions in Iraq and 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 told The Associated Press.

Al-Maliki, while calling for amnesty for some insurgents and 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. No, a thousand times no. There can be no agreement with them unless they face the justice," he said.

The prime minister, in power just over a month, 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."

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

Khalilzad suggested 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.

The reconciliation plan won the endorsement of the senior Sunni political figure in parliament.

"In the name of Iraqi Accordance Front, I support and agree with this initiative and call upon all Iraqis to support it because it will be the first step toward security, stability and the building of a new Iraq," said Adnan al-Dulaimi, whose organization represents the three key Sunni political parties in parliament.

However, it is expected that parliament's debate this week on the plan will reveal considerable opposition among hard-liners on both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide.

Al-Maliki's initiative, offered 12 days after a surprise visit from President Bush, said compensation should be paid to "those who were killed by Iraqi and American forces."

He said that time spent in prison by detainees later released without charge will be considered as 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."

Hundreds of prisoners have been pardoned and released in recent months in what is seen as a bid by the Shiite-dominated government to appease Sunni Arab anger over allegations of random detentions and maltreatment.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military said two soldiers had been charged in the Feb. 15 shooting death of an unarmed Iraqi man near the volatile city of Ramadi. Spc. Nathan B. Lynn was charged with one count of voluntary manslaughter, while he and Sgt. Milton Ortiz Jr. were charged with one count of obstructing justice for allegedly conspiring with another soldier to put an AK-47 near the body to make it look as though he was an insurgent.

The U.S. military reported that an American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing south Baqouba on Saturday, raising to 17 the number of U.S. personnel reported killed last week.

In the south of Iraq, Japan moved some of its 600 soldiers into Kuwait as it began the total withdrawal of all its forces that were based in Samawah conducting humanitarian and reconstruction projects.