Last Sunday, Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki presented his
plan for “national reconciliation” in an effort to halt the country’s
spiralling violence. It was less sweeping than had been expected,
containing no general amnesty and no proposal to negotiate with the
insurgents. According to The New York Times, their
omission “appeared to have been influenced by religious Shiites who
form his base and by the American military command”.

However, the plan did include a limited amnesty
provision. According to the English translation provided by the Iraqi
, point 5 provides for “Issuing an amnesty to the prisoners who are
not involved in crimes against humanity or terrorist acts and forming
committees to set them free immediately. The insurgent who seeks to
gain the amnesty opportunity has to denounce violence, support the
national government and to obey the rule of law.”

What constitutes “terrorist acts”, of course, is a
matter of interpretation, but the intention seemed to be to pardon
insurgents who’ve engaged in purely military activities, rather than
killing innocent civilians. Even that, however, was too much for the

The chorus of outrage in Washington was deafening,
even from those who oppose the war. Senator Carl Levin said this would
“just be unconscionable … For heaven’s sake, we liberated the
country.” And American media fed the frenzy – as Michael Gawenda
reported in The Age: “Throughout the day after Mr Maliki’s announcement, American cable
television news channels as well as free-to-air news bulletins, ran
interviews with families of solders killed in Iraq, all of whom
expressed outrage that the killers of their family members would be

Sure enough, by last night al-Maliki had backed down. He now promises that “we will not give amnesty to anyone who killed their soldiers.”

But you can’t end a war by promising to punish the opposing
soldiers. That’s not how the Americans ended their own Civil War:
who surrendered were sent home, not tried for murder or treason (as
legally they could have been). Killing soldiers isn’t terrorism, it’s
warfare. If American pressure is stopping the Iraqi government from making
sensible attempts to end the war, then things can only get worse.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey