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Iraq Offers Amnesty to Some Insurgents

“To those who want to rebuild our country, we present an olive branch,” al-Maliki said. “And to those who insist on killing and terrorism, we present a fist with the power of law to protect our country and people.”

The new government is working to reach out to the disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, which is at the heart of the insurgency, in the hopes that it will give up the rebellion.

The plan, while lacking details, included instructions to Iraqi security forces to take control of the country quickly so U.S. and other foreign troops could leave eventually, reported the Associated Press.

It did not establish a timetable for replacing coalition troops.

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that Gen. George Casey had drafted a plan to reduce the 127,000 American troops now in Iraq by 7,000 in September and by 20,000 more by the end of 2007.

President Bush said Monday that he had met with Casey but that the plan was one option and any decision related to troop reductions would be based on realistic appraisals of the situation.

“In terms of our presence there, that decision will be made by General Casey as well as the sovereign government of Iraq based upon conditions on the ground,” the president said, according to Reuters.

Nonetheless, the report prompted several Democrats who had called for a draw-down of troops to proclaim a political victory.

“Here we have a situation where Democrats, 80 percent of us, voted to say we ought to start reducing our troop presence there — and again, we got pummeled,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told CBS. “And now, it turns out, we’re in synch with General Casey.”

Last week, the Senate voted 60-39 against a proposal to begin withdrawing troops by the end of 2006.

Meanwhile, violence in the country continued. On Monday, a bomb exploded Monday in the central marketplace in Hillah, killing at least 15 people and wounded 56, police said, reported the AP.

Also Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the slaying of four of its embassy workers in Iraq, a day after the al-Qaida-linked group Mujahedeen Shura Council made the claim on its Web site.

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