Allawi makes surprise visit to Najaf

Wext: Sunday, 08.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST


08. 08. 2004 - BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has paid a surprise visit to Najaf, the scene of fierce fighting in recent days between U.S. forces and the Mehdi Army militia.

Allawi called on Sunday for the militia fighters in the southern Iraqi city to "leave the holy sites quickly, lay down their weapons and return to the rule of order and law."

"They will leave, God willing," Allawi said.

Allawi's visit to Najaf comes one day after he announced a temporary amnesty that would let some of the insurgency's minor players off the hook.

He said the amnesty would be what he called "minor crimes."

Among the minor crimes are the possession of light weapons and explosives, covering for terrorist elements and failing to inform the appropriate authorities about a crime.

The amnesty applies to people who have not been prosecuted.

Allawi said the amnesty period is 30 days and applies only to crimes during the 15-month insurgency.

People wanted for crimes such as murder, kidnapping and rape won't receive amnesty.

Allawi said those who committed crimes such as killing, from street criminals to alleged terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "will be prosecuted."

He said the order had been issued to allow Iraqis to rejoin society and participate in the reconstruction of the country "instead of wasting their lives pointlessly toward a lost cause."

"We understand that times have been hard and we understand some citizens had to do what they could to care for their families and provide necessities they deserve," he said.

"However, I should say that times have changed. The economy is improving. The country is prospering. And it has changed into a fully sovereign country able to take care of its people, and there is no need for our people to be involved in such acts any longer.

"Employment opportunities are abounding in Iraq," Allawi said.

He urged those who accept the amnesty to go to a police station, where they will be provided with protection and opportunities for work.

Allawi: Criminals, foreigners fighting in Najaf

Allawi said Saturday that he believes the people behind the violence in the Najaf are common criminals and foreign forces -- not part of the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Allawi said criminals are using al-Sadr's name to sow discord, and the prime minister said he has been getting positive messages from the al-Sadr side.

"I think these are bandits and gangs trying to hide behind Muqtada al-Sadr," Allawi said.

Allawi said security forces have made the situation in Najaf stable.

The U.S. military said Friday it estimated that 300 insurgents -- fighters it said were with al-Sadr's militia -- have been killed in recent clashes there. An al-Sadr spokesman rejected that claim, and said only 36 Mehdi Army members have been killed. Allawi could not confirm the death toll.

He said the fighting in Najaf "is quite pitiful at a time when we're working to improve our nation."

He also accused the media of blowing the situation out of proportion.

Allawi also said he has invited al-Sadr to get involved with the electoral process. Balloting for Iraqi's transitional national assembly is to be held in January.

Al-Jazeera office shuttered

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government announced Saturday that it had closed the Baghdad office of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language TV network based in Qatar, for 30 days.

Allawi cited a report from an independent commission set up by the Iraqi government that listed "the problems Al-Jazeera has been causing" as the basis for the closure.

The decision, Allawi said, was made to protect the people of Iraq.

In an interview from Qatar, Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout told CNN "I don't think that Al-Jazeera ever incites violence."

Source: CNN

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