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Iraqi Interim  Prime Minister Signs Limited Amnesty - 2004-08-07

The interim Iraqi prime minister has signed a limited amnesty law that will pardon insurgents who have committed minor crimes, but have not killed anyone. The long-awaited move is aimed at helping end the 15 month insurgency that has hampered efforts to rebuild the country. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says insurgents have 30 days to turn themselves in to Iraqi security forces to qualify for the amnesty.

Earlier proposals would have pardoned almost everyone involved in the insurgency. But Mr. Allawi says the law he signed will not apply to serious crimes, such as murder, rape or the destruction of government buildings.

"This amnesty is not for people who have committed crimes, who have killed," the interim prime minister explained. "The criminals will be brought to justice, starting from Zarqawi down to anybody who commits a crime on the streets of Baghdad. They will be brought to justice."

He was referring in that statement to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is alleged to be responsible for a series of deadly car bombings, as well as the kidnapping and beheading of several foreigners.

Those eligible for amnesty include people who possess small arms and explosives, as well as those who withheld information about terrorist groups, or helped those groups carry out their attacks.

"This order has been established to allow our citizens to rejoin civil society and participate in the reconstruction of their country and the improvement of their lives, instead of wasting their lives pointlessly toward a lost cause," Mr. Allawi said.

The prime minister also offered an olive branch to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose followers had been battling U.S. and Iraqi troops for days in southern and central Iraq, especially in the holy city of Najaf.

Mr. Allawi has given the firebrand cleric a chance to distance himself from the actions of his followers and begin taking part in the political process.

"I have been having positive messages from Moqtada al-Sadr," he said. "That is why we don't think that the people who are committing the crimes in Najaf and elsewhere are his people. We think they are people using his name. We invite, and I invite from this platform, Moqtada al-Sadr to participate in the elections next year."