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Iraq enacts massive criminal amnesties

Iraq’s parliament has passed a controversial amnesty law that could free many thousands of convicts – including some killers, according to critics.

“Not less than 20,000 would go free,” said Yonadam Kanna, secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement and a member of the Iraqi parliament.
“Most of those who would be retried and released are guilty of corruption charges,” Kanna told AMI Newswire. “We have many, many people who have been convicted by evidence that was unverified or by confessions that were made under torture.”

The amnesty law, which went to a vote Aug. 25, was intended to withhold the get-out-of-jail card from those convicted of 13 types of crimes, including “acts of terror resulting in death or permanent disability, human trafficking, rape, money laundering and embezzlement and theft of state funds,” according to the Al Monitor newswire.

Iraqi prisons are overflowing after 13 years of civil war. Thousands of prisoners, including cadres for Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have been convicted of planting improvised explosive devices, attempting suicide bombings or participating in torture and mass killings. Hundreds are on death row.

There are also thousands being held for theft and corruption charges stemming from the U.S. occupation, when billions of dollars flowed into Iraqi cities under sketchy oversight.

“Amnesty will bring a stand-down of many combatants helping ISIS in Mosul, Tikrit and Diyala, all Sunni areas,” said Kanna. “In addition, there are many Shia convicts who have been in prison for more than 10 years because they followed the fatwahs of Shia clerics who urged them to fight the American occupation. Many of these convicts deserve a chance to rejoin society.”

The Shia blocs reportedly argued vigorously to prevent convicted terrorists from gaining amnesty, whereas the all-Sunni Iraqi Forces Coalition argued for provisions that would free many Sunni inmates they believe had been falsely convicted of terrorism charges.

In the final version of the law that was passed, inmates serving terrorism sentences can apply for amnesty as long as their alleged crime did not result in death or disability of a victim. That means suicide bombers whose vests didn’t explode could apply for amnesty.
A controversial amendment to extend amnesty to kidnappers – added to the law at the last minute – has caused an uproar of protest, including criticism from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

“Abadi said Wednesday the law would release terrorists who were involved in kidnapping and suicide terrorists who were caught before blowing themselves up, for example,” said Ali Sada, editor of Daesh Daily, citing the news agency Mada. “Abadi said the government will not accept the new version and will revise the law and send it back to the Council of Representatives (CoR).”
Kanna confirmed parliament will amend the law to exclude kidnappers. 

“I also oppose the amendment giving amnesty to kidnappers, but the parliament will quickly revise the law, and PM Abadi will support the final version,” he said.

The prisoner release could apply to as many as 50,000 convicts, says Dr. Ali Al-Bayati, president of the Turkmen Rescue Foundation, which advocates for the rights of ethnic Turks in Iraq.

“All political parties came to an agreement on this law and the purpose is political, since many former Iraqi political figures, including those convicted on terrorism charges in absentia, such as former vice-president Tariq Al-Hashimi, would be rehabilitated,” Al-Bayati wrote to AMI.

Although the law was passed by a wide margin, some Iraqi MPs are already expressing remorse.

“In the opinion of some experts, this law would have allowed Saddam Hussein [were he alive] to be retried and to gain acquittal,” wrote MP Muaaffaq Al-Rubbai, the former national security minister [translated from Arabic by Ali Sada].

“We firmly reject forgiving those who are accused of terrorism and kidnapping cases although we don’t mind re-investigation of the cases that require more checking according to the law,” wrote Muhammed Mehdi Al-Bayati, a former parliamentarian, in a social media post [translated by Al-Bayati, who is not related].

A little-discussed provision of the law would allow a prosecuting judge to grant amnesty to a convicted killer if the family of the victim had expressed “forgiveness,” Al-Bayati told AMI in an interview.

This would give legal sanction to the ancient practice of reconciling warring clans by paying so-called blood money to the family of the victim. In Iraq, blood feuds can go on for decades unless reconciliation is obtained by paying a ransom to the clan that claims to be aggrieved.

The Shia Iraqis demanding justice for the victims of terrorism are many. Some Shia militias in the prison town of Nasiriya in southern Iraq recently threatened to storm the prison and execute the inmates themselves, if the government fails to carry out the sentences, according to reports in Daesh Daily.

More than a few Al Qaeda and ISIS militants have already been released for lack of evidence or through political interventions, only to resurface months later to kill civilians.

One was the current self-proclaimed head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was released from the American prison in Abu Ghraib in 2009. Al-Baghdadi reportedly told his American jailors as he was leaving, “I’ll see you guys in New York.”

Douglas Burton is a former U.S. State Department official in Kirkuk, Iraq and writes news and commentary from Washington, D.C. Queries to Burtonnewsandviews@gmail.com call him at 202-203-9883.