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Iraq: Premier To Announce Ambitious Reconciliation Program

Iraqi soldiers on the streets of Baghdad on June 23 (epa) As Iraqis await the formal announcement of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national-reconciliation plan, many politicians appear poised to support the initiative, which proposes a multifaceted approach to resolving the security crisis plaguing the country.

The plan, set to be announced to parliament on June 26, is expected to include a general amnesty for those members of the resistance who do not have blood on their hands, as well as an initiative to reexamine the controversial de-Ba'athification program.

Al-Maliki told reporters at a June 6 press briefing in Baghdad that de-Ba'athification is a constitutional issue that should be reconsidered by the Council of Representatives and revised to "right wrongs and not harm those who would like to join the political process." The government will also continue a program begun earlier this month aimed at releasing those detainees not charged with crimes.

The plan is also expected to call for the implementation of large-scale reconstruction projects in 14 of the country's 18 governorates, where the security situation remains relatively stable. Al-Maliki has said that he also intends to crack down on corruption within his government.

The second phase of the plan will likely seek to activate the antiterrorism law, and will include a security crackdown on those groups who continue to hold weapons and oppose the government.

Once the government is able to gain control over security by collecting illegal weapons, there will be no need for armed gunmen or militias to roam the streets, another key point in the prime minister's plan.

Reining In Militias Key To Plan

Al-Maliki has said he intends to rein in militias by integrating some within the official security forces, and pensioning off others. While the details of the plan are not yet known, the core idea was one that the Coalition Provisional Authority attempted but failed to implement in 2004.

Will the Imam Al-Mahdi Army give up its weapons? (epa)

The proposal has already raised concerns among some members of his cabinet, including the national intelligence chief, Muhammad al-Shahwani. Al-Shahwani, who has headed intelligence since 2004, told "Al-Zaman" in a June 11 interview that "integration is not the solution."

"Integration means officially recognizing the militias and condoning their acts," al-Shahwani said. "This should not happen at a time when the government, the parliament, and the political forces are trying to put the task of maintaining security and defense solely and exclusively in the hands of the armed forces."

Moreover, it is doubtful that the two largest Shi'ite militias, Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Badr Corps, would actually abide by any commitment to dissolve their militias. Both have previously committed to laying down arms, but neither has actually done so.

The Badr Corps changed its name to the Badr Organization in 2003 as part of its declared transformation from a militia to a civil-society organization. Thousands of its members subsequently joined the ranks of official state security forces, but the militia remains active.

The Al-Mahdi Army has also claimed on at least one occasion to have laid down its arms, but by some accounts is better armed today than ever before.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the government will redefine the role of the Kurdish peshmerga, which is responsible for security in the northern Kurdish region.

Too Ambitious?

While several Sunni and Shi'ite politicians have already voiced support for the plan, as has President Jalal Talabani, some observers fear it may be too ambitious.

For one, it remains unclear which members of the resistance the government is willing to negotiate with. Press reports last week indicated that the government might offer amnesty to insurgent groups that have waged attacks on coalition forces, a claim the prime minister's office denied.

Al-Maliki has already said he would not engage in talks with insurgent groups that had blood on their hands, raising questions among some Iraqis about just how effective the talks would be.

Few politicians on both sides have acknowledged that unless talks are opened with all groups -- including hard-line Ba'athists and Islamists -- little change can come, since the latter two constitute the core of the insurgency.

But al-Maliki is likely to focus on his comprehensive approach. Critics have said that the failure of the interim and transitional governments to stabilize the country rested on simplistic approaches that sought to address certain aspects of security, while ignoring others. Al-Maliki will argue that his approach will offer both carrots and sticks to all sides in the conflict.

His administration's ability to succeed will rest on its ability to elicit the cooperation of the country's fractious ethnic and religious groups at a time when factionalism is at an all-time high.

The International Coalition In Iraq

The International Coalition In Iraq
Georgian soldiers marking Georgian Independence Day in Baghdad on June 6 (epa)

COALITION MEMBERS: In addition to the United States, 28 countries are Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) contributors as of May 31, 2006: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Fiji is participating as part of the UN mission in Iraq. Hungary, Iceland, Slovenia, and Turkey are NATO countries supporting Iraqi stability operations but are not part of MNF-I.

NON-U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL IN IRAQ: United Kingdom, 8,000 as of May 26, 2006; South Korea, 3,237 as of May 9, 2006; Italy, 2,900 as of April 27, 2006; Poland, 900 as of May 30, 2006; Australia, 900 as of March 28, 2006; Georgia, 900 as of March 24, 2006; Romania, 860 as of April 27, 2006; Japan, 600 as of May 30, 2006; Denmark, 530 as of May 23, 2006; All others, 1,140.

(Source: The Washington-based Brooking Institution’s Iraq Index of June 15, 2006)

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