Yahoo! News - Iraq May Give Amnesty to Insurgents


By now, you've probably read about the new Iraqi government's propsed offer of amnesty to insurgents. If you haven't, the details are here:

A spokesman for Iyad Allawi went as far as to suggest attacks on U.S. troops over the past year were legitimate acts of resistance--a sign of the new government's desire to distance itself from the 14-month U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

"If he (a guerrilla) was in opposition against the Americans, that will be justified because it was an occupation force," the spokesman, Georges Sada, said Saturday. "We will give them freedom."

Choking the brutal 14-month insurgency is the No. 1 priority of Allawi's government, and the prime minister is expected to make a number of security-related policy announcements in coming days. Besides the amnesty plan, those include the resurrection of Iraq's death penalty and an emergency law that sets curfews in Iraq's trouble spots, Sada said.

The amnesty plan is still in the works. A full pardon for insurgents who killed Americans is not a certainty, Sada told The Associated Press. Allawi's main goal is to "start everything from new" by giving a second chance to rebel fighters who hand in their weapons and throw their weight behind the new government.

This seems entirely reasonable to me. The government must demonstrate that it is not an American puppet, and that can only be done by taking positions that are counter to US desires. Further, an amnesty drives a wedge between foreign terrorists and the communities in which they run. Exactly to the degree that those communities perceive the new government as independent, they may wish to lay down arms.

Such amnesties are common in the history of civil wars. They do not always succeed. The British attempted one in New York during the Revolutionary War, but only a few thousand "rebels" took advantage of it. After the American Civil War the amnesty was offered to most Confederate soldiers (but not necessarily their officers -- Robert E. Lee, though one of the foremost in the efforts to reunite the nation, asked for but never received amnesty). There remained a violent insurgency in the South for several years, until the "Redemption" movement swept away most of the constitutional changes forced on Southern states by martial law. It was only at that point that the insurgents ceased fighting.

On the other hand, these programs do work sometimes. Iraq seems like a good candidate. The several discrete groups that have been fighting the Coalition have broken apart--al Sadr's army, defeated on the battlefield, may be in a mood to declare victory and cease fighting. If you make them outlaws, they have no option but to carry on the war. Let them go home, and most of them very well may.

There is one final factor that has been completely forgotten by the American press. It is this: Iraqis have not known peace for twenty years. Their sons were impressed to fight in the longest conventional war of the 20th century: the Iraq-Iran conflict. Those who survived were forced to fight the Allies of the Gulf War. Those who survived that saw the suppression of the Shi'ite uprising and the Kurdish uprising. There was, suffusing all of this, the terror of the Mukhabarat. Then, their sons were once again impressed into duty against the Coalition; and after that, guerrilla war and wild-eyed terrorists roaming their cities.

There is every reason to believe that a populace so wearied will take any chance at peace, if they can only be made to believe in it. It's not a bad idea to start by forgiving past offenses -- Saddam and a few of his high-level cronies excepted. That is a promise to the Iraqi people that they will not see their sons turned against their neighbors. From now on the only foe is those who would destroy the new and, genuinely, the common order.

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