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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
Iraq militias 'could beat rebels'

By Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad

Iraqi government soldiers in Baghdad on 17 April
Iraq's formal security forces are still relatively weak
Iraq's new president has said the insurgency could be ended immediately if the authorities made use of Kurdish, Shia Muslim and other militias.

Jalal Talabani said this would be more effective than waiting for Iraqi forces to take over from the US-led coalition.

Mr Talabani, a Kurd, also told the BBC he would not sign a death warrant for captured former leader Saddam Hussein.

And he warned that any attempt to impose an Islamic government on Iraq would break up the country.

He said the Shia religious parties with whom the Kurds have struck a partnership to underpin the new government have agreed to a compromise whereby Islam will be one of several sources for Iraqi law.

'I won't sign'

If Saddam Hussein is to go to the gallows, as many of his erstwhile foes insist he must, his death sentence will have to be endorsed by the new Iraqi presidency.

Jalal Talabani speaks to reporters after being chosen as interim president by Iraq's parliament
We cannot wait for years and years of terrorist activity because we haven't enough government forces
Jalal Talabani
Iraqi President

But Mr Talabani, a lawyer and human rights advocate who has always opposed capital punishment, made it clear that his principles would not allow him to sign such a document, despite all the suffering the Baathist regime had inflicted on his Kurdish community.

"Personally, no, I won't sign," he said.

"But you know, the presidency of Iraq are three people. These three must decide. So I can be absent. I can go on holiday and let the two others [the vice-presidents] decide."

Mr Talabani said all other members of the new Iraqi leadership were in favour of a swift execution for the former Iraqi dictator.

"All of them are for sentencing Saddam Hussein to death before the court will even decide," he said.

"So I think I will be alone in this field, calling for a reprieve."

But President Talabani did not believe the execution of the former president - who has yet to go on trial - would undermine efforts to sap the insurgency by winning over elements of the former regime's Sunni Muslim constituency.

"I think if he'll be finished, many of his followers will give up their hope or their wishful thinking that one day he will come back," he said.


Mr Talabani said he favoured an amnesty for Iraqi insurgents who had taken up arms out of disenchantment with the new regime.

He also said he believed members of the former ruling Baath Party should be allowed to take up jobs in civil life and the administration - but not in the armed or security forces, unless they had a track record of secret opposition to Saddam Hussein.

But he made it clear that any such major decisions would have to be taken via a consensus involving the presidency, the cabinet and the parliament.

Asked how long it would take for Iraqi security forces to be in a position to replace the US-led coalition, President Talabani said the transition could take place straight away if a new strategy were adopted.

"In my opinion, Iraqi forces, the popular forces and government forces, are now ready to end the insurgency and end this terrorism," he said.

"But there is a kind of thinking inside the [outgoing interim] government that they must not use [them]."

The Kurds have in the past offered the use of their estimated 80,000 Peshmerga guerrillas for security tasks but have been turned down.

So, too, has the Iranian-influenced Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and its Badr brigade, another well-trained fighting force.

"We cannot wait for years and years of terrorist activity because we haven't enough government forces," the president said.

Role for religion

He envisaged taking up the offers of Sunni leaders who wanted to join the political process to ensure security in their own areas.

He admitted that the Americans remained opposed to the idea of a role for irregular forces.

"But we are independent now," he added.

Mr Talabani played down fears that the Kurds' senior partners in the coalition underpinning the yet-to-be-announced government, the Shia religious factions, might try to impose an Islamic government.

While Islam was generally agreed to be the religion of the state and should influence its laws, there could not be an Islamic government, he said.

"In Iraq, it is impossible, because you have Kurds, Arabs, Shia, Sunni, Christians - such a kind of mosaic society. It is not Iran, it cannot be an Islamic society. If anyone tried to impose it, Iraq would be divided."

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