BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Shi’ite leader vowed on Saturday to amend a law meant to foster sectarian reconciliation by pardoning mostly Sunni prisoners, saying it had led to the release of “terrorists” and corruption suspects.
Iraq has blamed a spike in violence since April on the release of detainees from Iraqi and U.S. prisons, and is also on a drive to stamp out the rampant corruption that has crippled efforts to attract foreign investment and rebuild the country.
“Regrettably, the amnesty law has been changed from the conditions written by the government, and has led to the pardoning of many (accused of) corruption,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a conference of tribal leaders from both Sunni and Shi’ite faiths in Baghdad.
The law, which allowed the release of thousands of Sunni Arab prisoners, has helped return estranged Sunni politicians to Maliki’s government and is thought to have taken some of the heat out of the insurgency.
Maliki nonetheless vowed to change it.
“This will be amended and reviewed, on the basis that there is no protection for any corrupt (person) or terrorist in any legislation, or by any political power that is part of the government,” he said.
Political reconciliation is seen as crucial to ending the insurgency as U.S. troops prepare to leave by 2012, but Maliki said the existing law had meant “major terrorists” being freed.
“Because of the addition of one word to the law, whether because of a mistake or deliberately, major terrorists have been released, because the law says that a terrorist that is not responsible for direct killings should be pardoned,” he said.
It was not clear which word Maliki was referring to, but the amnesty, which Maliki himself backed when it was enacted, is meant to exclude those accused of embezzling public funds and committing major crimes, such as murder.
Maliki’s Shi’ite allies, rather than Sunnis, have the widest access to state coffers.
Iraq’s parliament passed the amnesty law in February last year after painstaking negotiations and pressure from Washington for legislation that would help heal Iraq’s sectarian divisions.
Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; writing Mohammed Abbas; editing by Philippa Fletcher