US to release five female prisoners in Iraq

A US military spokesman in Baghdad confirmed Wednesday statements by Iraq Justice Ministry officials who said five women detainees are scheduled to be released Thursday.

Iraqi officials have been at odds with their US counterparts over the release of the five, among nine women terrorism suspects in American custody in Iraq.

The Justice Ministry said last week that six women were about to be freed. Reuters reported that Iraqi officials have suggested the delay in releasing the women was linked to the demands of the kidnappers of American journalist Jill Carroll, who threatened to kill her by last Friday unless all women prisoners were freed.

The deadline passed with no word on Ms. Carroll's fate. The US says it does not negotiate with kidnappers.

The handful of Iraqi women in detention at any given moment are a source of particular anger for average Iraqis and insurgents alike.

The US military says it makes special efforts to process women more quickly than men, because of the anger and violence generated by US detention of women. Many Iraqis assume that women are abused in US detention, and in a culture in which a family's honor is seen as tied up with their ability to protect their women, female detainees are an especially emotional issue.

Sunni Arab political leaders complain frequently about women in detention here. Demands that women be released have been made in other cases than Carroll's.

Shortly after the abduction of Iraq Interior Minister Bayan Jabr's sister on Jan. 4, for instance, her captors demanded that all women be released from the ministry's jails. She was later released unharmed.

The American military spokesman said Thursday's release of the female Iraqi detainees is unconnected to Carroll's abduction. He stated that the US military and Iraqi government had processed the women's cases according to normal procedures and determined they did not need to be held any longer.

The US military is holding about 14,000 security detainees following the release of about 500 guerrilla suspects last week. An Iraqi Justice Ministry official said the women would be among 424 prisoners released Thursday.

Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali told the Associated Press that an Iraqi government commission had reviewed the six women's cases and suggested they be released due to lack of evidence. US authorities would not comment on his claim.

Carroll was kidnapped on a Baghdad street on Jan. 7 and her translator was killed. Muslim leaders have joined her family, friends, and colleagues in calling for her release.

• Wire material was used in this report.

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