Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"A new life is coming, God willing"

One of the major benchmarks was an amnesty for prisoners, mostly Sunni, held for minor crimes as part of the larger crackdown on al Qaeda and Baathist militias. This was long seen as a necessary move for reconciliation. The amnesty bill passed by the Maliki government in February is now going into effect and tens of thousands of pardons have been granted. As Farouq Ameen Othman, a Kirkuk investigative judge quoted in the article below put it: "Terrorism started and now it is ending. A new life is coming, God willing."


This from USA Today:

Mohammed Hussain Ghafur dabbed his watery eyes moments after his two young sons jumped into his waiting arms. In the 20 months he languished in jail without charges, this had been his dream.

His crime? Ghafur, 37, says he sold a car that was later used in a terrorist bombing. "They traced the address to me, and that was it," he said. He says he cooperated with police after he was arrested by U.S.-led coalition forces, but despite his pleas, "they never allowed me to defend myself or see a lawyer."

Ghafur was among 122 detainees released from an Iraqi-run prison in Sulaimaniyah and given their freedom at a ceremony here Monday as part of the largest wave of prisoner releases since the war began. The Iraqi government set them free to reintegrate men into society who were accused of relatively minor crimes, and ease the strains on a prison system operating well beyond its capacity.

The men marched into a courtyard at Kirkuk's police academy, each carrying a red silk rose and a shopping bag with their few possessions. Their families pelted them with candies. Children ran to greet them as old women in black abaya head scarves and with tattooed faces crooned in joy. Later, detainees, guards and tribal leaders danced to Arab and Kurdish music.

Most of those released were Sunnis who had been low-level army officials or former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. They were among thousands of Iraqis who were arrested without charges by coalition and Iraqi forces. The discharges signal "a return to some sense of normalcy," said U.S. Army Col. David Paschal, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, who attended the ceremony. "At some point, the fighting must stop."

The prisoners are being freed under an amnesty law passed by Iraq's parliament in February. More than 52,400 detainees in government custody have applied for their freedom. Of those, nearly 78%, or more than 40,000, were granted amnesty. More than one in five, though, were denied because they are being held for crimes not covered by the law. These include killing, kidnapping, rape, embezzling government funds, selling drugs and smuggling antiquities.

The amnesty law does not cover more than 23,000 Iraqis who are in U.S. custody. Still, Air Force Capt. Rose Richeson, spokeswoman for coalition detainee operations, says nearly 8,000 detainees held at two coalition detention centers have been released since September, an average of 52 a day. "It is reasonable to expect that rate of release will continue," she said.

. . . Before they are released, detainees must sign and swear a loyalty oath to the Iraqi government that they will "promise to maintain peace" and not attack security forces, incite sectarian strife, damage or destroy government property or kidnap hostages.

. . . To discourage newly freed men from resorting again to violence, the Iraqi government plans to pay former detainees to attend school and learn a trade. In June, Kirkuk province will start Iraq's first large-scale training program for former detainees when it aims to enroll 1,200 men in classes to learn welding, carpentry, cellphone maintenance and other skills. The province also will hire former detainees to work on road repair, trash removal and other services.

. . . Many of the detainees ignored Farouq Ameen Othman, a Kirkuk investigative judge, as he read the oath of allegiance they had just signed. They had other things on their mind.

"This is sort of a new life," Othman said. "Terrorism started and now it is ending. A new life is coming, God willing."

Read the entire article. Coming on the heels of Maliki's offensives and political moves to end the sectrarian militias, this will clearly mark a milestone in the efforts to unite Iraq. And, as Ed Morrissey remarked at Hot Air:

It . . . defuses a longstanding point of friction with the Sunni tribes who have complained loudly about the imbalance in treatment for their communities by Baghdad. Their efforts to work within the political system have paid off, and their win in gaining amnesty for so many detainees will encourage them to work within the democratic system rather than conduct insurgencies against it.

The release allows both Iraq and the US to focus on bigger fish — and to keep them from recruiting insurgents from the inside. Both US and Iraqi officials note the danger of leaving massive numbers of minor violators in close proximity to real hard-line extremists. The prisons become recruiting and training centers for future terrorists, especially when neither have any real prospects for a normal life in post-Saddam Iraq.

At the ceremony in Sulaimaniyah, the released prisoners danced and celebrated with their former guards and their families. If that spirit can remain and the nation’s infrastructure can be restored and modernized, Iraq can reach a real reconciliation quickly. Perhaps at some point, the US will notice this progress and recommit themselves to encouraging and protecting it.

Read the entire post.

1 comment:

jookut said...

But war is not ended yet. US keeps fighting on Iraqis. Then terrorism will be spreaded again.