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Senators wary of 'amnesty' in Iraq plan

Iraqi PM's reconciliation strategy draws praise, raises concerns
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's plan is aimed in part at placating militant Sunni factions.


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• Interactive: Sectarian divide


Carl Levin
Chuck Hagel

(CNN) -- U.S. senators on Sunday called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national reconciliation plan a positive step but expressed concerns about its "amnesty" provision.

Al-Maliki's plan, announced earlier in the day, would extend an olive branch to some Iraqi militants and grant the phased release of 2,500 detainees from Iraqi prisons.

Part of the strategy spells out "amnesty for all prisoners who were not involved in any terrorist activity, war crimes or crimes against humanity." (Watch violence temper hopes for plan -- 2:39)

This could leave the door open to freeing someone who might have killed an American service member in battle. And that possibility was deemed troubling by U.S. lawmakers asked about amnesty in Sunday talk-show interviews.

"No, I don't think granting amnesty to people who killed Americans is acceptable, and I don't believe that's what the Iraqi government intends to do," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, on ABC Sunday.

Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican, said on "Fox News Sunday" that he thinks the plan is a "very positive step forward" by the fledgling government.

"He has drafted a plan ... to get the grass-roots response in an effort to have a healing effect and put behind us the differences in Iraq and bring to the forefront a consensus and hopefully the council -- which is their congress -- will work on it," said Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"We will, our government, be in consultation -- not dictating, but in consultation -- on the points, as well as [being] the one questioning how you treat those who fought in various ways against the forces that we had when they came in, and today [are] fighting the insurgency."

Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska also said the plan is in the blueprint phase and for now there should be some flexibility.

"After all, they are a sovereign government now, and that's what we helped produce for them, and that's what we said we believe in. ... So they're going to have to make some tough choices, and we'll help them as much as we can," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."

The prime minister offered no details as to how his government would specifically implement all of the issues that are outlined in his 24-point plan. He spoke of training Iraqi security forces and the need to build up Iraqi security forces so they could eventually take over from coalition troops, but did not detail a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Article raises questions

The Washington Post ran an article earlier this month quoting a "top adviser" who said al-Maliki's reconciliation plan "is likely to include pardons for those who had attacked only U.S. troops."

Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie has since denied such suggestions, saying "Iraqi blood is as sacred as the American blood" and that al-Maliki intends to have "selective amnesty" for prisoners who have not committed crimes against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi soldiers or coalition forces.

Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani echoed al-Rubaie's sentiments, telling "Late Edition," "This process is to show them the Iraqi government is extending its arms to all those Iraqis not carrying arms and who are willing to come into the political process and debate their point of view.

"Those who are carrying arms and fighting will be considered as criminals, and their place is in Iraqi prisons and not negotiating tables."

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said the idea that Iraq should even consider talking about amnesty for people who have harmed those responsible for their freedom "unconscionable."

"For heaven's sake, we liberated that country. We got rid of a horrific dictator," said Levin on "Fox News Sunday." "We've paid a tremendous price. More than 2,500 Americans have given up their lives."

Al-Maliki's plan is aimed at placating militant Sunni factions, countering sectarian strife and outlining steps for Iraqis to assume control of the volatile security situation.

Further work on the proposal will take place in upcoming weeks, and a dialogue between the U.S. and Iraq is expected.

"The president in our government is going to talk with the government of Prime Minister Maliki, but it's up to the Iraqis to figure out the best way to do it," White House Press spokesman Tony Snow said Saturday.

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