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Iraq To Free 6,000 Sunni Insurgents From Jail
The Telegraph (UK) ^ | 9-2-2007 | Colin Freeman

Posted on 09/01/2007 6:53:15 PM PDT by blam

Iraq to free 6,000 Sunni insurgents from jail

By Colin Freeman in Baghdad, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:58am BST 02/09/2007

Up to 6,000 suspected Sunni insurgents are to be freed from Iraqi jails in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the country's government from collapsing under the strain of sectarian in-fighting.

Iraq’s prison population is 85pc Sunni and a release scheme is seen as an attempt at reconciliation with Sunni parties

The release scheme, which could put some hardened combatants back on to the streets, is part of a high-stakes gamble by Iraq's Shia-led government to win back the confidence of Sunni politicians after increasingly bitter squabbling and walkouts.

It is understood to have been central to a key accord last week between the five main Shia, Kurdish and Sunni political blocs to kick-start the government again after 15 months of near deadlock.

The failure of Iraq's politicians to set an example to their warring constituents is likely to be mentioned in this month's report by Gen David Petraeus on the success of the US troop surge, which will warn that gains in curbing tit-for-tat violence will founder unless more progress is made in political reconciliation.

Civilian deaths from violence in Iraq rose in August to 1,773, according to government figures yesterday, up on the 1,653 killed in July. Some 411 died in the massive truck bombings among the Yazidi community in northern Iraq on a single day.

Last week's accord, brokered after growing pressure from Washington, led to an immediate public pledge to scrap the controversial de-Ba'athification law, which bans former senior members of Saddam Hussein's predominantly Sunni administration from working in government.

But the Sunnis are also understood to have privately secured a separate agreement for mass releases of people arrested during anti-insurgent operations.

The plan is a tacit acknowledgement that many of the 24,000 security detainees in Iraqi jails are probably either innocent or small players arrested during large-scale anti-insurgent sweeps.

Most such sweeps have taken place in Sunni areas, which helps account for the fact that Sunnis, say US commanders, make up 85 per cent of the jail population.

However, with little hard evidence either way, diplomats admit that the amnesty is likely to result in the release of some committed fighters.

The exact number of prisoners to be freed has not yet been decided, but last week Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's vice-president and leader of the Sunni-backed Iraqi Islamic Party, said 50 detainees would be freed every day during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in mid-September.

That would total around 1,500 prisoners, although sources say that further releases, bringing the total to 6,000, could follow.

Western diplomats argue that the agreements on prisoner releases and the scrapping of de-Ba'athification measures show that prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is finally taking measures to draw Sunnis in.

"These are some significant steps," said one. "It does demonstrate that the leaders have recognised publicly that there are issues which need to be addressed, and they have stated their willingness to tackle these together."

Some liberal Sunni politicians, however, fear that too much compromise with Ba'athists or insurgent elements will ultimately set back the growth of Iraq's democratic institutions.

"We cannot make peace with the fascists of the Ba'ath or the Islamists," said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament.

"It is not a question of being realistic. The reality is that we have a state that is dealing with mafias."

The five signatories to the accord are the two main Kurdish parties (the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdish Democratic Party), the two main Shia parties (the Islamic Da'wa Party and the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council) and the main Sunni party, the Islamic Party of Iraq.

They met during the Iraqi parliamentary recess in August to discuss major changes in the "structure, nature and direction of the Iraqi state".

While similar meetings in the past have come to little, diplomats claim to detect a new sense of purpose this time, heightened by a feeling that patience in Downing Street and Washington is -running out.

The importance of regaining Sunni political co-operation is seen to have increased in recent months because of US success in turning Sunni tribes against their former al-Qaeda allies in western Iraq.

However, despite welcoming the pledges for prisoner release schemes and de-Ba'athification as a "great achievement", the Iraqi Islamic Party leader, Tariq al-Hashemi, has insisted it does not go far enough to persuade his Sunni bloc to rejoin the government.

The bloc, which includes his own party and other more hardline, pro-insurgent elements, previously quit its five ministerial posts on August 1, part of a flurry of walkouts and resignations that has left nearly half the 40 seats in Mr al-Maliki's cabinet empty.

While coalition officials have been upbeat about efforts to re-engage with the Sunni side, there remains less certainty about the intentions of the hardline Shia wing led by the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which also quit the government.

Mr Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia has been blamed for much of the sectarian bloodshed and attacks on British and US forces over the past 18 months, surprised diplomats last week by announcing a suspension of all offensive operations for six months, pending a "restructuring".

Diplomats are still undecided whether the move is a genuine attempt at reconciliation, or an attempt by Mr Sadr to rein in some more brutal factions of the Medhi Army, many of whom are increasingly operating outside his authority.

The latter is a gamble that could result in his losing control altogether.

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: detainees; free; insurgents; iraq; sunni

1 posted on 09/01/2007 6:53:18 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

Ok...Now I am Confused.

2 posted on 09/01/2007 6:59:23 PM PDT by Recovering Ex-hippie (We need a troop surge in Philly and Newark!)
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To: blam

Why is this starting to remind me of Israel vs “Palestine”?

3 posted on 09/01/2007 7:01:36 PM PDT by Mad_Tom_Rackham (Elections have consequences.)
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To: blam

Great, another 6,000 insurgents for our military to worry about.

4 posted on 09/01/2007 7:02:44 PM PDT by doc1019 (Fred Thompson '08)
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To: blam

I wonder how many of these were captured during the “surge” ?

time to get out...

5 posted on 09/01/2007 7:37:34 PM PDT by stylin19a (Go Bears !)
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To: blam; doc1019; stylin19a; Mad_Tom_Rackham; Recovering Ex-hippie

The UK Telegraph did everything they could to make this sound like a bad thing.

But releasing most of the Sunni insurgents held without charges is a fundamental precondition to national reconciliation, and one of the three impediments that the Maliki government has been dragging their feet on. The other two are reform in the debaathification process and disbanding Shiite militia (which was to some degree supported with Sadr’s claim to suspending operations a few days ago.)

This is good news all over, but you’d never know it from the UK Telegraph.

6 posted on 09/01/2007 7:45:56 PM PDT by elfman2 ("As goes Fallujah, so goes central Iraq and so goes the entire country" -Col Coleman, USMC ,4/2004)
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To: elfman2

Another piece of momentous news from Iraq was reported here:

But, I have not heard a single word about this from the doomsayer chorus on the major network news shows.

I think this is all of a piece - one that paints a picture of vindication for George W. Bush.

7 posted on 09/01/2007 10:15:47 PM PDT by John Valentine
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To: elfman2

The test of the release reported by Bob McFarlane:

By the Mercy of Allah

Thanks be to God and Peace be Upon His Prophet and His Family and Friends

On the date of 22nd August 2007, in Cairo, Egypt in two continuous meetings, the present situation in Iraq has been discussed with all its problems and complexities. After long discussions all those meeting have decided it is necessary to begin a process of engagement including the highest level of religious leaders as soon as possible. This engagement will focus on reducing violence, and working together for peace, the ending of terrorist violence and the disbanding of militia activities in order to build a civilised country and to work in the framework of law. Those listed have committed to:

1 To form a preparatory committee to bring in the recommendations of the above

2 To work toward the spreading of the Spirit of Unity and brotherhood

3 To commit to meeting together every 15 days

4 To actively engage with other influential and proactive religious leaders with the highest qualifications in order to issue a comprehensive (Sunni and Shia) Fatwa against violence

Sheikh Dr Ahmed Al Kubasi

Ayatollah Ammar Abu Ragheef

Sheikh Fateh Kashif Al Ghittah

Sheikh Dr Abdul Latif Humayeem

Sheikh Mustapha Al Jabory

It may seem a modest achievement. But according to Mr. McFarlane, Sheikh Ahmed al Kubaisi whose name is among those who signed on, is Iraq’s senior Sunni religious leader. His Friday sermons, which are broadcast each week from Dubai, reach an estimated 20 million people. His word carries weight, so it is not unreasonable to believe something will come of this initiative.

8 posted on 09/01/2007 10:46:22 PM PDT by John Valentine
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