Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Shia Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that he favoured extending an amnesty to fighters who may have killed US troops - an idea opposed by the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

"Yes, they should be covered regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliations," al-Hakim said when asked whether he would support extending the amnesty plan to those who have killed US-led troops.

Al-Maliki, a Shia of the al-Dawa party, said that those who fought US forces in Iraq are not eligible for amnesty.

Although al-Hakim proposed extending the amnesty, he dismissed the notion of an Iraqi resistance.

"If there was a true resistance movement, then it should unmask itself so that we can sit down and negotiate with it, but I have seen no proof that such a movement actually exists," he said.

Right to fight

Others argue that those fighting US-led forces and the US-backed government in Iraq have a right to resist foreign troops.

"So who is attacking US troops? Who is destroying military tanks, Bradleys and choppers, driving US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ask the Congress for the appropriation of billions of dollars?" said Buthaina al-Nasiri, an Iraqi political writer and novelist.

"All this debate seems pathetic because the resistance movement has announced its rejection of the plan," she said, referring to al-Maliki’s reconciliation proposal.
 

"The Iranians want to consolidate their role in Iraq"

Munaf al-Yasin,
former head of the Iraqi news agency

Al-Hakim, whose party was established and funded by Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988, visited Tehran in June.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after meeting al-Hakim, called on foreign troops to leave Iraq.

Al-Hakim was among the first to return to Iraq after the US-led invasion in March 2003 toppled Saddam Hussein. Al-Hakim was appointed to the US-formed governing council during the US occupation administration that lasted until June 2004.

Iran's role

Munaf al-Yasin, a former head of the Iraqi news agency, has said al-Hakim's statement is a message to stress Iran's key role in Iraq.

"The Iranians want to consolidate their role in Iraq. They want to tell the Americans that we are not willing to let this influence go for free," al-Yasin said.

"Iran also realises that a permanent US presence in Iraq would be a threat, as the US goals in Iraq are still not completely clear. No one knows exactly what they want to do and why they are there in the first place."

Al-Yasin said that the statement might be a manoeuvre to win public support.

"Those who were in Iran before the 2003 invasion are accused by the public of mistreating and torturing Iraqi prisoners taken by Iran in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

"They [the current Iraqi leaders] are also accused of unprecedented corruption. Iraqis are definitely not happy with their current style of life, and I think each Iraqi leader is hunting every possible chance to win some public support," al-Yasin said.

Al-Nasiri said the reconciliation plan is an American proposal intended to do away with armed Shia groups.

"One of the goals of the reconciliation, which is an American plan, is to get rid of the Shia militias. It seems to me to be a game directed not to the resistance movement but to those militias,” she said.

"The Shia in the government, like Hakim, understand this and they are defending themselves."