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May 30, 2008

"The American Forces are on the right track," Claims John McCain Former Sunni Insurgent

Another victory for the crafty al-Sadr, I'm sure, even though this involves Sunnis well outside of his former bases of operation in Basra and Sadr City.

Damnit, this is awesome.

School teacher Raad Mohammed Mahdi used to take on another role after classes: foot soldier in the Sunni insurgency north of Baghdad.

He grew weary of his double life last year and wanted to lay down his arms. The problem was he didn't know how to surrender formally without facing possible jail time.

Last week, Mahdi entered a U.S. military base and signed a form that amounts to a personal truce. More than 140 other men came the next day after learning that soldiers did not detain Mahdi, whose late brother was an insurgent leader.

It marked some of the first steps in a new U.S.-Iraqi program to offer a way out for those who renounce violence part of widening attempts at national reconciliation as sectarian violence shows signs of easing.

The latest offer promises a clean slate for fighters if they claim their only targets were American troops. It also pledges a "fair" legal process for those wanted for attacks on Iraqis troops or civilians.

Since the program was expanded this month to Sunni areas near Balad, more than 300 men have surrendered. Most have been released, although 76 were given a court date to face Iraqi charges.

Mahdi was one of the first to take up the offer. On May 21, he signed a cease-fire agreement and pledged to follow Iraqi laws.

"We are tired of raids. We want to protect our area by ourselves," the 31-year-old teacher said during a recent interview at the base in Balad, a mostly Shiite city near a major U.S. air base about 50 miles north of Baghdad.

"The policy of the American forces has changed. Now the American forces are on the right track. We have trust in them," he said.

Not all agree. Some men have refused to participate, saying they feared the Americans and the Iraqis would use the written pledge against them.

U.S. and Iraqi officials, however, are hopeful that the program will stem support for the insurgency by giving former fighters an exit.

"There are a lot of guys who kept fighting simply because they didn't have an out," said Lt. Col. Bob McCarthy, commander of the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment that operates in the Balad area. "At the end of the day, if they've quit fighting we've got to figure out how to let them move forward."

True, the imperative of justice would demand more from these people than a truce. But peace is usually won by relaxing on the demands for justice.

If this continues, there'll be a lot fewer fresh American (and Iraqi) dead, which is a kind of solace for those already killed.

Hot Air.

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