U.S. refuses to release Iraqi women prisoners
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The United States disputed a senior Iraqi official’s statement Wednesday that a decision had been made to free a high-profile Iraqi woman prisoner. Iraqi militants who beheaded two kidnapped Americans have threatened to kill a Briton unless female detainees are freed.
After the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said there would be no immediate release of either of the two women in U.S. custody, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi knocked down earlier comments by his Justice Department that one woman would be freed.
Allawi told The Associated Press that no release of prisoners is imminent, though his government has begun reviewing the status of its detainees. “We have not been negotiating and we will not negotiate with terrorists on the release of hostages,” he said.
A decapitated body was found in Baghdad on Wednesday. The family of hostage Jack Hensley said it had received confirmation that the body was Hensley, whose slaying was announced a day earlier by the al-Qaida-linked militant group loyal to Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft and tanks attacked rebel positions in Baghdad’s Sadr City slum, killing 10 people and wounding 92. Suicide attackers set off two car bombs in Baghdad, one of them killing six people. The second, in the upscale district of Mansur, wounded four U.S. soldiers and two Iraqis.
Also, the spiritual leader of al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group was killed in a U.S. airstrike several days ago in a Baghdad suburb, the man’s father said.
The conflicting U.S. and Iraqi statements raised questions over who has authority in the country, even after the handover of sovereignty to Allawi’s interim government in June. U.S. officials have been saying that they have been giving more decision-making power to Iraqis, including over security matters.
The U.S. military says is has two Iraqi women in custody, both high-profile security detainees held at an undisclosed location – Rihab Rashid Taha, a scientist who became known as “Dr. Germ” for helping Iraq make weapons out of anthrax, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a biotech researcher known as “Mrs. Anthrax.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Noori Abdul-Rahim Ibrahim announced that Iraq and coalition officials had decided to Taha on bail – though he underlined that the decision was not related to the kidnappers’ demands.
But soon afterward, a U.S. Embassy spokesman ruled out any immediate release. The two female scientists from Saddam Hussein’s regime “are in our legal and physical custody. Legal status of these two and many others is under constant review,” the spokesman said.
Allawi spoke by telephone from New York with AP. He confirmed that Taha’s case was under review, but stressed that her case has not been decided and her release is not imminent.
“The judicial system, is involved in reviewing the detainees and the condition of the detainees,” he said. “This has been happening since two or three weeks ago. No release takes place unless I authorize it.”
Al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group announced Tuesday it killed Hensley, saying their demands had not been met. He would have marked his 49th birthday Wednesday. On Monday, the group released a video showing the beheading of another American, Eugene Armstrong, whose body was found in Baghdad the same day.
The group warned in a Web statement that British hostage Kenneth Bigley, 62, would be the next to die unless all Iraqi women are released from jail – though it did not set a deadline as it has in past statements..
Hensley, Armstrong and Bigley were kidnapped Sept. 16 from a house that the three civil engineers shared in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.
Bigley’s brother recorded a message Wednesday to be broadcast on Arabic language TV station Al-Jazeera urging his captors to free him.
Hensley’s body and its severed head were found Wednesday in a black plastic bag in western Baghdad was turned over to the United States, according to iraqi authorities. The family was told later that the body was Hensley’s.
Hensley’s wife, Pati, was “extraordinarily devastated,” said the slain hostage’s brother, Ty, on NBC’s “Today.”
Tawhid and Jihad – Arabic for “Monotheism and Holy War” – has claimed responsibility for the slaying of at least seven hostages, including American Nicholas Berg. The group has also said it is behind a number of bombings and gun attacks.
Its spiritual leader, Sheik Abu Anas al-Shami, 35, was killed when a missile hit his car on Friday in western Baghdad, according to al-Shami’s father. The U.S. military had no comment.
A host of militant groups have used kidnappings and bombings to undermine Allawi’s interim government and force the United States and its allies out of Iraq. The violence has already persuaded companies to leave, hindered foreign investment, led firms to drop out of aid projects, restricted activities to relatively safe areas and forced major expenditures on security.
More than 130 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, and at least 26 of them have been killed. Many more Iraqis have also been seized in the chaos since Saddam Hussein was ousted last year, in many cases for ransom.
In new violence Wednesday, a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside a photocopy shop in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Jamiyah where Iraqi National Guard applicants were readying their papers before heading to a nearby recruiting center. The blast killed at least six people and wounded 54, authorities said.
Bloodied bodies, shattered glass and debris littered the street. Residents and relief workers collected human remains and put them into plastic bags.
Another car bomb shook the Mansour district of Baghdad in the afternoon and thick black smoke could be seen rising from the area, police and witnesses said. Four U.S. soldiers and two Iraqis were wounded in the blast.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi forces searched for weapons caches in Sadr City, a Shiite stronghold, in east Baghdad. An Associated Press reporter near the scene said a U.S. C-130 gunship raked one area with heavy fire after rebels loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr opened fire with rocket propelled grenades. Hospital officials said at least 10 people were killed and 92 injured.
West of Baghdad, five unidentified bodies in Arab-style robes were found in a communal grave near insurgent-controlled Fallujah, residents said. The site was uncovered when dogs began to paw at the area, they said. Militants ordered people to leave.
A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff Tuesday near the southern city of Nasiriyah, wounding three crew members, the military said. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash.