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Terrorists Claim Execution of Abducted Russian Embassy Workers in Iraq

An al-Qaida-linked group says it has executed four Russian Embassy workers, who were abducted earlier this month in Iraq. The terrorist group made the announcement on an Islamist Web site, and posted video footage showing two men beheaded and another fatally shot. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are attempting to clarify the intent of a government amnesty proposal being made as part of a plan for national reconciliation.

As Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented the plan to parliament, expressions of dismay arose among some U.S. legislators, who wondered whether insurgents and terrorists who targeted coalition forces would be included in the amnesty. Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani sought to answer the question on CNN's Late Edition program.

"Not at all," said Hussein Shahristani. "These people are not included in this amnesty. Their place is Iraqi prisons, not negotiating tables."

The minister said the amnesty aims to encourage those who have shunned Iraq's democratic process to become engaged, not to pardon terrorists who have targeted civilians and security forces.

Yet, in Washington, suspicions about the amnesty proposal remain. Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin spoke on Fox News Sunday.

"For heaven's sake, we [the United States] liberated that country," said Carl Levin. "We got rid of a horrific dictator. We have paid a tremendous price - more than 2,500 Americans have given up their lives. The idea that they [Iraqi officials] should even consider talking about amnesty for people, who have killed people who liberated their country is unconscionable."

Also appearing on the program was Virginia Republican Senator John Warner, who voiced opposition to a blanket amnesty in Iraq. But Warner added that it is not for the United States to dictate what Iraq's government may do. He expressed hope that the country's leaders will make an appropriate decision on their own.

Prime Minister al-Maliki's plan envisions an eventual pullout of international forces from Iraq.

In a recent CNN interview, an excerpt of which was played on Late Edition, Vice President Dick Cheney repeated the Bush administration's strong opposition to setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals, as some Democrats have urged.

"The worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting," said Dick Cheney. "And no matter how you carve it, you can call it anything you want, but basically it is [amounts to] packing it in [giving up] and going home, validating the theory that Americans do not have the stomach [courage] for this fight."

Illinois Democratic Senator Richard Durbin said the Iraqi prime minister's plan validates what Democrats have been advocating for many months. Durbin spoke on ABC's This Week program.

"This [Iraqi] national unity plan calls for beginning the withdrawal of American troops with a timetable," said Richard Durbin. "That is a position now taken by the Iraqi government, by the Iraqi people, by the American people and by the Democrats, 39 out of 45 in the United States Senate. The only ones who disagree, apparently, are the Republican senators."

Meanwhile, The New York Times newspaper is reporting that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, has drafted a plan that would sharply reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq by the end of next year, with initial cutbacks beginning in September.

The article says, unnamed U.S. officials stress that any drawdown of America's military presence in Iraq would depend on ground conditions and the ability of Iraqi security forces to operate on their own.

Insurgent attacks continued Sunday in Iraq, leaving six dead in Baghdad. A car bomb in Mosul killed two people.