BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraq’s Justice Ministry said on Sunday it still expects U.S. forces to release six Iraqi women prisoners this week, despite U.S. comments to the contrary.
The issue of the detainees has become central to the case of kidnapped U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, whose abductors have threatened to kill her unless all female prisoners are freed.
“The Iraqi detainees will be released within a week from today,” a spokesman in the Justice Ministry’s media office said.
A U.S. military spokesman declined comment.
Iraqi officials have since been at odds with their U.S. counterparts over the release of the six, among eight women terrorism suspects in American custody. The Justice Ministry said last week the six were about to be freed, but U.S. officials have insisted no releases are imminent.
Another Justice Ministry official said a review board, which comprises six Iraqi officials and three U.S. officers, met on January 17 and agreed to release the six women within days.
Later that day, Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera aired a video by a group calling itself the Revenge Brigades in which they threatened to kill Carroll unless their demands were met within three days.
In the days since the video was broadcast, U.S. officials have stressed there are no plans to speed up the release of Iraqi women detainees, nor to free them in the near future.
U.S. policy is not to negotiate with kidnappers.
“They delayed their release because of the connection with the kidnapping of the American journalist,” the Justice Ministry spokesman said.
The hostage-takers’ deadline passed on Friday with no word on Carroll’s fate.
“Those women were arrested in a period of three, four and five months ago,” said the second ministry official. “Their families came to the ministry and asked us to help releasing them as they are women and this is a disgrace.”
The detention of women offends many Iraqis and U.S. forces seek to avoid it in most cases.
“We talked to the Americans and they agreed to put them before the review board. On January 17 we reached an agreement that they will be released,” the official said.
The U.S. military is holding about 14,000 security detainees following the release of about 500 guerrilla suspects last week.
Many in the once-dominant Sunni Arab minority, which has fostered the insurgency against the U.S.-backed, Shi’ite-led government, resent the detentions system and say thousands are held on flimsy evidence without recourse to the law.
“Like all detainees, females are held because a determination was made in each case that the individual poses an imperative threat to the security of Iraq,” the U.S. military said in a statement last week.
Carroll was kidnapped on a Baghdad street on January 7 and her translator was killed. Muslim leaders have joined her family, friends and colleagues in calling for her release.
More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein three years ago. Most have been freed but dozens of foreigners have been killed.