Iraqi prime minister offers amnesty to undercut support for militants
Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, offered a general amnesty in a rare conciliatory move to undercut support for militants whose offensive has overrun swathes of territory and threatens to tear Iraq apart.
Maliki's surprise move, made in his weekly televised address on Wednesday, appeared to be designed to split the broad alliance of jihadists, anti-government tribes and loyalists of executed dictator Saddam Hussein that has captured large chunks of five provinces, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
"I announce the provision of amnesty for all tribes and all people who were involved in actions against the state" but who now "return to their senses", Maliki said.
But he excluded those involved in killings.
Analysts have said some form of reconciliation is needed to convince Sunni Arabs angry with the Shiite-led government to turn against the jihadists. The vast majority of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority do not actively support the group spearheading the offensive, Islamic State, formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or Isis). However, anger at perceived mistreatment by the authorities means they are less likely to cooperate with the security forces.
Maliki's announcement came a day after an eagerly awaited opening to the Council of Representatives descended into chaos and ended in disarray without a speaker being elected.
Washington quickly warned that "time is not on Iraq's side", with State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf calling for "extreme urgency".
UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Iraqi politicians "need to realise that it is no longer business as usual".
Presiding MP Mahdi al-Hafez said the legislature would reconvene next Tuesday if leaders were able to agree on senior posts.