BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – The U.S. military in Iraq freed five women prisoners on Thursday, but American and Iraqi officials stressed their release was pre-planned and not linked to the case of kidnapped U.S. reporter Jill Carroll.
The kidnappers of Carroll, who was abducted in Baghdad on Jan. 7, had threatened to kill her by last Friday unless all women prisoners were released. There has been no word on her fate.
The five, among at least eight women held by U.S. forces in Iraq, were freed along with 414 other detainees, a U.S. military spokesman said.
“The case of the women detainees is a legal case and it has nothing to do with the case of the American journalist,” said a Justice Ministry official, who declined to be named.
The U.S. military said in a statement that a panel comprising U.S. and Iraqi officials had recommended the release of the women after reviewing their cases.
“We have released 419 women, including five women,” a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters.
The Justice Ministry had already publicised the panel’s decision but until Thursday U.S. officials were insisting no releases were imminent. Iraqi officials have suggested Washington did not want to be seen to be giving in to the hostage-takers’ demands.
The ministry has said it has been pressing the U.S. military to release the women, calling their detention a “disgrace”.
The detention of women offends many Iraqis and U.S. forces seek to avoid it in most cases. 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.
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.