Cleric Pushes Pardons For Iraqis

Iraqi residents try to put out a fire started by a car bomb attack targeting a U.S. Army patrol in Baghdad on Friday. AP

An influential Sunni cleric urged President Jalal Talabani on Friday to fulfill his promise to pardon homegrown insurgents and resist U.S. pressure to keep them in prison.

Militants, meanwhile, set off three bombs in the capital Friday, killing at least one civilian and wounding eight others, officials said, the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Baghdad.

Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, a cleric in the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, said during Friday prayers that Talabani should free all Iraqi detainees and refuse to "obey and kneel to pressure" from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The comments came three days after Rumsfeld visited Iraq and urged the emerging government to avoid politicizing the military and to stick to the current strategy of maintaining a U.S. presence until Iraq's own forces are capable of defeating the insurgents.

After he was sworn in as president two weeks ago, Talabani reached out to Iraqi militants and suggested they could be pardoned, although he said the government would continue to fight foreign insurgents. The U.S. military says it is holding 10,500 prisoners in Iraq.

Some lawmakers have said Talabani was just expressing his personal opinion in a largely ceremonial post as president. It was unclear whether the new government — still being formed — would support his position.

The insurgents want the United States to leave Iraq but have not put forward any other political demands or conditions to halt their violent resistance.

In other developments:

  • Several mass graves have been recently discovered in Iraq, including one holding an estimated 5,000 soldiers massacred in a failed uprising against Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, and another believed to contain 2,000 members of a Kurdish clan, Iraqi officials tell the New York Times. The graves, discovered over the last three months, have not been dug up because of a lack of qualified forensic workers and the risk of insurgent attacks, officials say. At least 290 grave sites containing some 300,000 bodies have been found since the American invasion two years ago, officials say.

  • Pakistan urged kidnappers in Iraq to release a Pakistani Embassy official who disappeared Saturday after leaving his Baghdad home for prayers. Hours earlier, Al-Jazeera satellite television aired a video that showed the man, an official at the Pakistani Embassy said.

  • A fight broke out among prisoners at the United States' largest detention center in Iraq, leaving one detainee dead and a dozen injured, the military said Friday. Camp Bucca in southeastern Iraq houses 6,000 detainees, or nearly two-thirds of all those in Iraq.

  • In Basra, the family of Abass Ali Ketaan accused the Iraqi police of beating and torturing Ketaan while he was in their custody. Ketaan was arrested three days ago on suspicion of having ties to kidnappings and killings in the region, police said. He was brought to a hospital late Thursday, where he died, and photos of his body showed he was covered in bruises and cuts.

    One of the three car bombs that hit Baghdad on Friday exploded in an eastern neighborhood where U.S. forces were on patrol, killing a civilian and wounding three others, a police official said on condition of anonymity.

    A second blast didn't appear to cause any injuries, said Capt. Talib Thamir.

    The third exploded near a U.S. convoy in the western Mansour district, witnesses said. A damaged Humvee could be seen in the area, which was sealed off by U.S. forces.

    At least five civilians were injured in the blast, said Ihssan Abdul Razaq, an official at the Yarmouk Hospital, where rescue workers brought the wounded. The U.S. military said one soldier was also hurt.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, one of several the terror group has said it carried out this week against U.S. targets.

    On Thursday, the group said it carried out twin car bombs that killed 18 people and wounded more than 30 others in Baghdad, the highest death toll from an explosion in Iraq in more than a month. On March 10, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a funeral, killing 47 people.

    In a statement posted Friday on the Islamic Ansar Web site, the group said: "One of God's lions from the martyrdom seekers' brigade took off this morning Friday and rammed his car into a convoy of Americans." The statement could not be verified.
    • Joel Roberts

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