Baghdad, Asharq al-Awsat – Britain announced yesterday the identity of the two bodies it had received from the Iraqi Government and said they were those of two men kidnapped with three other Britons in Baghdad in 2007. While an Iraqi deputy close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki denied playing the role of mediator in the negotiations with the kidnappers, he asserted that the two men were killed more than a year ago.
Despite the Iraqi Government’s official denial it had entered into negotiations with the kidnappers, informed Iraqi sources have asserted that there are government mediations to release the remaining hostages. The Iraqi Government recently released Layth al-Khazali, brother of the leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haqq, the group which split from Al-Sadr Trend’s Al-Mahdi Army and claimed responsibility for kidnapping the hostages. Reports at that time noted that his release was part of a deal to release hostages.
On his part, Sami al-Askari, the Unified Iraqi Coalition deputy who is close to Al-Maliki, has denied that he is a mediator in the negotiations and told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I am not a mediator in the negotiations between the government and Asaib Ahl al-Haqq. Moreover and as a deputy in parliament, I cannot be the government’s mediator in any negotiations.” Al-Sadr Trend Spokesman Salah al-Ubaydi had disclosed to Asharq al-Awsat that Al-Askari was the mediator and said: “According to our information, Sami al-Askari is the government’s mediator negotiating with Asaib Ahl al-Haqq.” But he denied having any knowledge about the British hostages.
Al-Askari said: “There is no agreement so far and the report was denied. But there is at the same time a dialogue between the government and Asaib about a number of issues.”
About the two bodies the Iraqi Government had handed over to the British Embassy in Baghdad, he said: “I do not believe that the marks on the bodies confirm they were killed recently, especially as the condition of the two bodies confirms that they were killed more than a year ago, which means (the killing) happened before the negotiations and before anything of what happened recently.”
Regarding the negotiations between the two sides, Al-Askari said the “dialogue held between the government and Asaib focused on the latter giving up its weapons and joining the peace process and also the cessation of all military operations and the release of all hostages and kidnapped persons they were holding. In return, Asaib demanded from the government the release of all its detainees held by the Americans, particularly as some of their detainees are still held by the Americans. The government is waiting for their handover to it and once it is proved there is no evidence that a felony was committed or a judicial order against him, the detainee will be released in accordance with the national reconciliation plan.”
Al-Askari stressed that “Asaib Ahl al-Haqq will be treated in the same way that the government treated the awakening councils which were part of the armed groups but got involved in the political process in accordance with the national reconciliation plan between the Iraqi people’s sectors.” He added that “there is an agreement in principle by Asaib Ahl al-Haqq about their willingness to stop all military operations and become involved in the political process. On the other hand, there must be cooperation and coordination between the two sides with the government starting to release the detainees it is holding and also talking to the Americans to release those they are holding.”
Regarding the timing of the two bodies’ handover, he said: “The handover of the two bodies at this time is part of the government’s pressure on Asaib Ahl al-Haqq group to hand over the hostages it is holding, whether they are alive or dead.” He pointed out that “the matter depends on the government. Will it release the detainees it is holding? Will the Americans and British help the release of these detainees? If there are such signals, then the Asaib Ahl al-Haqq group will be eager to close all the dossiers that have not been resolved so far, particularly as it strongly wishes to contest the upcoming elections since not much time is left before they are held.”