Saturday, March 7, 2009

Iraq's Maliki calls for forgiveness of Saddam allies - Helald Tribune

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, growing in strength as violence fades and Iraq tries to embrace political unity, called for forgiveness on Friday for allies of Saddam Hussein. "We must reconcile with those who committed mistakes, who were obliged in that difficult era to side with the past regime.

Today they are again sons of Iraq," Maliki told a meeting of tribal leaders in Baghdad.
"We will reconcile with them, but on the condition they come back to us and turn the page on that dark part of Iraq's history ... What happened, happened," he said.

The call for forgiveness comes five weeks after January's provincial polls in which allies of Maliki, a Shi'ite and former opposition member who fled Iraq under Saddam and was sentenced to death in absentia, swept much of central and southern Iraq.

Salman al-Jumaili, a parliamentarian from the main Sunni Arab block, the Accordance Front, welcomed Maliki's words but told Reuters they should be backed up with action.

"We hope that these speeches will be translated into legislation and measures to allow this category (former members of Saddam's Baath party) to re-integrate with society," he said.

Parties across the spectrum are now hammering out agreements to form majority blocs on provincial councils across Iraq, with an eye to national elections at the end of the year.

While the violence unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam is subsiding in most parts of Iraq, political rapprochement is proving more elusive.

Many of the players who have dominated Iraqi politics since 2003 appear unwilling to forgive the sectarian killing of recent years or set aside long-standing feuds over power and resources, many of which stem from Saddam's system of according privilege and power to fellow Sunni Arabs.

Iraq has passed legislation to reverse a government purge of members of Saddam's banned Baath party, instigated by U.S. authorities following the invasion. That decision helped fuel a bloody Sunni Arab insurgency.

While Maliki often speaks of the need for national reconciliation, some complain his Shi'ite-led government is dragging its feet on re-embracing former Baathists.

Some rivals, including Iraq's minority Kurds, fear Maliki will try to consolidate power, and have accused Maliki of edging towards authoritarianism.

Feriyad Rawanduzi a lawmaker from the Kurdish alliance, called on Maliki to "open the door wide to reconciliation not only with members of the past regime but with all those in the political process."

But he added that former members of Saddam's Baath party who committed grave crimes should be punished.

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