December 26, 2007

Iraqi Cabinet Pushing Towards Reconciliation

On Monday, Rep. Michele Bachmann told a press conference about an important pension bill passed by the Iraqi National Assembly. It got little press in the US, but it created economic stability for the Sunnis, who had lost their pensions after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Bachmann called it an important step towards reconciliation, as it requires the Sunnis to engage with the elected central government -- and they appeared eager to do so.

Today, the Iraqi cabinet sent another significant bill to the National Assembly, and this should get more press:

The Iraqi cabinet approved a draft law on Wednesday that will offer a general pardon to thousands of prisoners in U.S. military and Iraqi custody, a government spokesman said.

"The cabinet has passed the general pardon law, which will define who is eligible to be freed from all prisons, both Iraqi and American," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters. ...

Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, said earlier this month that the draft law was aimed at boosting reconciliation between majority Shi'ite and Sunni Arab Muslims, locked in a cycle of violence.

Congress demanded a determination of prisoner status as a benchmark of political reconciliation last year. This bill would meet that goal, once passed by the parliament. It resolves the status of many of the 50,000 held by Iraq and the US, split almost evenly, many of whom got rounded up in the last year as part of the sweeps conducted by General David Petraeus as part of the surge.

The Sunni tribes want most of them released. As Reuters notes, most of them will never see trial anyway. They may have had little involvement in any insurgency, or acted at a lower level of criminality. Murderers will not go free, and foreigners will probably never see the outside of the prison. Given the dramatic changes on the ground since their incarceration, those pardoned will likely try to go home and take their part in the economic opportunities now arising, plus will want to protect their new pensions.

The National Assembly will probably take this up quickly, but will chew on it for a while to fine-tune the thresholds for release. Everyone knows that the current detention levels are unsustainable, and the question will be who gets released, and when. It will prove another significant step towards reconciliation, something that will cheer Americans .... if they get to read about it.


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