Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Friday offered amnesty to Sunni Arab militants in the northern city of Mosul and financial compensation for their surrendered weapons.
The offer comes as government troops press an offensive in the city, which the U.S. military has called the last urban stronghold of militants loyal to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
A statement issued by Maliki’s office gave militants 10 days to hand over their heavy and medium-grade weapons to Iraqi security forces or local tribal leaders.
“Gunmen who carried weapons against government forces but were not involved in crimes against civilians shall be granted amnesty and also the opportunity to participate in building the new Iraq,” the statement said.
Maliki, who flew to Mosul on Wednesday to oversee the operation, promised monetary compensation for any weapons surrendered, but said the details would be released later.
U.S. and Iraqi officials believe insurgents driven out of Baghdad and Anbar province last year have regrouped around Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and a gateway for fighters and weapons smuggled across the Syrian border. Since last summer, the number of attacks in Mosul has increased, even as violence dropped in the rest of the country.
The Iraqi operation had been promised since January, but was delayed by the fierce backlash to a government crackdown on Shiite Muslim militiamen in the southern city of Basra and parts of Baghdad.
A statement was read out during Friday prayers at mosques affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, urging his followers to respect an agreement reached with the government to end fighting in the Sadr City district of Baghdad, a Sadr stronghold. The statement was signed by the “general military command” of Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
In violence Friday, a suicide car bomber attacked a police station in Fallouja, killing eight people and injuring nine, police and hospital officials said. It was the latest in a string of attacks in Anbar province, suggesting that Sunni Arab militants may be trying to stage a comeback in their former stronghold.
A 6-month-old girl and four policemen were among the dead, police said. Policemen beat up a photographer and a cameraman working for the Reuters news service as they tried to record the aftermath, the agency said. The photographer required hospital treatment.
Special correspondents in Baghdad and Fallouja contributed to this report.