By Medea Benjamin and Raed Jarrar
The Iraqi reconciliation plan unveiled by Prime Minister Al-Maliki on Sunday had the potential to mark a turning point the in the war. But thanks to U.S. interference, instead of a road map for peace, the plan that emerged looks more like a bump in Iraq’s torturous path to continued violence and suffering.
Iraqi government officials, anxious to reduce the violence that has engulfed their nation, initiated talks last month with various insurgent groups to come up with a reconciliation plan. The roots of this plan are not new. They date back to the November 2005 Iraqi Reconciliation Conference in Cairo, where Iraqis from different political and religious persuasions came together and elaborated a long list of recommendations for ending the violence.
The plan announced by the Iraqi government on Sunday builds on many of those recommendations. It includes compensation for those harmed by terrorism, military operations and violence; punishment for those responsible for acts of torture; compensation for civilian government employees who lost their jobs after the fall of the Saddam regime; the promotion the political neutrality of Iraq's armed forces and the disbanding Iraq's militia groups; the return of displaced people to their homes and compensation for any losses they have suffered; review of the de-Baathification committee to ensure it respects the law; and co-operation with the United Nations and the Arab League to pursue National Reconciliation.
But two of the most critical aspects of the reconciliation plan discussed with the insurgents—the withdrawal of U.S. troops and amnesty for Iraqis who fought soldiers but not Iraqi civilians—were abandoned under intense U.S. pressure. The result is a weak plan that will probably not entice a significant number of fighters to lay down their weapons.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces is key to any peace plan, and is supported by the majority of Iraqis. A poll taken by World Public Opinion earlier this year showed 87% of the general population favoring a set timeline for U.S. withdrawal. Among Sunnis, who this peace plan is meant to attract, it is a whopping 94%. In fact, the call for a timeline has been echoed by high level officials inside the Iraqi government itself. When President Bush made his 6-hour trip to Iraq on June 13, Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi asked Bush for a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. The following day, President Jalal Talabani released a statement expressing his support for the vice-president’s request. Then on Tuesday, June 20, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security advisor, wrote an op-ed the Washington Post saying that Iraqis now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators, and that their removal would strengthen the fledgling government.
But back in the United States, the Republicans had just spent the week reiterating their “stay-the-course, no-timeline-for-withdrawal” mantra. So while the initial reconciliation proposal called for such a timeline, there is nothing at all about any U.S. withdrawal in the final version.
The other critical area watered down by the hose of U.S. political pressure regards amnesty. The original concept was a broad amnesty for fighters and detainees who have not “shed the blood of Iraqi civilians.” Those who attacked soldiers, whether Iraqi or American soldiers, would be pardoned for their resistance to occupation, while those who attacked civilians would not be. But the final document was more ambiguous. It called for amnesty "for those not proven involved in crimes, terrorist activities and war crimes against humanity."
Without an explicit amnesty for those who took up arms against U.S soldiers, whom they considered foreign invaders, there is no chance of stopping the violence. Unfortunately, it is the Democratic leaders in Congress who have been leading the charge against amnesty, introducing an amendment against it in the Senate even before the plan was released. Sen. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News Sunday that, "The idea that they should even consider talking about amnesty for people who have killed people who liberated their country is unconscionable.” What is unconscionable is for Democrats to use amnesty as a political club to beat up the Bush administration in a “we’re-more-patriotic-than-you-are” election season game, instead of recognizing it as a necessary component any serious peace plan.
In his Washington Post op-ed, Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie complained that influential foreign figures were trying to spoon-feed the Iraqis, and talked about the need for Iraqis to find solutions to Iraqi problems. The U.S. attempt to spoon-feed the Iraqis a U.S.-palatable version of “reconciliation” is precisely the kind of meddling Al-Rubaie was referring to. And what you get with spoon-feeding is pablum. The Iraqis, hungry for a hearty meal, deserve better.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK:Women for Peace. Raed Jarrar (email@example.com) is director of the Iraq Project at Global Exchange.