Wed, Jul 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Britain's Straw backs amnesty plan

FORGIVE AND FORGET UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has voiced support for a plan to grant amnesty to insurgents who fought the occupation of Iraq

THE GUARDIAN , Baghdad

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday on Monday gave his support to an Iraqi plan to offer an amnesty to insurgents who have fought the US occupation.

Iraq's new government was due to declare the amnesty Monday, but at the last minute cancelled the announcement. It was unclear why, although hours earlier Moqtada al-Sadr, a rebel Shia cleric and one of the most prominent candidates for a pardon, insisted he would continue to oppose the new Iraqi authorities.

Straw said similar amnesties had worked in other conflicts, including Northern Ireland.

"In many situations where an effort is being made for reconciliation, amnesties of one kind or another are used," he said. "I favor the sovereign government of Iraq making its own judgments about what is right for Iraq. After all, it is their country, not ours."

Plans under discussion would see insurgents offered another chance to put down their guns and to join Iraq's police and military instead, but there is still debate about whether more senior guerrilla leaders should be pardoned.

Sadr, who led a series of uprisings across southern Iraq in April, said he regarded the new government as illegitimate.

"We pledge to the Iraqi people and the world to continue resisting oppression and occupation to our last drop of blood," he said in a statement. "Resistance is a legitimate right and not a crime to be punished."

Until now the cleric had suggested he might give up his insurgency, which has already been largely defeated by the US military, and turn instead to politics. Ayad Allawi, the new prime minister and a long-time advocate of the US-British invasion, has held several meetings with the cleric's aides in recent days.

Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, also gave his support to the amnesty.

"It is a genuinely sovereign government and they have got to make those difficult and often very sensitive judgments," he said after meeting Straw in London on Monday.

Allawi is expected to introduce a series of other security proposals, including a return to the death penalty and some form of emergency law. Tackling the nightmarish security situation remains his priority. Although the violence has been limited over the past week, few believe the problem has disappeared.

Yesterday Iraq's oil exports halved as engineers tried to repair an important pipeline in the south which had been attacked by looters on Saturday. It could take four days to repair the damage and restore the usual 1.8 million barrels a day flow of exports. Another pipeline near Musayib, south of Baghdad, was attacked on Sunday.

Ten people were reported dead following an American air strike in Falluja Monday. Rockets were fired at a government building in Basra and hit several homes nearby, killing one person and injuring eight more.

The interior ministry said it had captured two Iranians who were suspected of trying to set off a car bomb in eastern Baghdad. Iraqi officials have frequently blamed the major attacks of the past year on foreign extremists.

Iraq's German football coach, Bernd Stange, said he was resigning and not returning to Iraq because of the security crisis.

He had spent two years training the team in Iraq, beginning before the war last year. Iraq's footballers have qualified for the Olympics in Athens and for the Asian Cup, which begins in China this month.

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