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Iraq PM promises to release 2,500 prisoners

His comments came a day after the abductions of 50 people in downtown Baghdad by gunmen wearing police uniforms.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2006 11:08 IST

Iraq's Prime Minister promised to release 2,500 prisoners and to press ahead with a security plan aimed at ending sectarian violence as he sought to quell public anger over a series of brazen attacks.

His comments on Tuesday came a day after the abductions of 50 people in downtown Baghdad by gunmen wearing police uniforms and the shooting deaths of 21 Shiites north of the capital, including students pulled from their minivans.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed a desire by insurgents to cripple the political process for the spike in violence since he took office just over two weeks ago.

They "have increased their bloody operations to derail and bring down the national unity government, but, God willing, they will lose," he told reporters.

Just after dawn Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed two police officers and wounded another two near a passport office in eastern Baghdad, police 1st Lt Ahmed Muhammad Ali said.

Three rockets which landed while it was still dark killed one man and wounded his two brothers.

It was unclear what the target was, but the three men were sleeping on their roof in Baladiyat, eastern Baghdad, in an effort to find some cool. Baghdad temperatures have hovered around 47 degrees Celsius (116.60 Fahrenheit) or higher in recent days.

Late Tuesday, and just hours after al-Maliki spoke, a parked car bomb exploded outside a Shiite funeral ceremony in southwestern Baghdad, killing at least four people and wounding 20.

Gunmen also killed one student, wounded another and kidnapped three at Baghdad University's business school.

Underlining the toll of Iraq's bloodshed, the Health Ministry said that during the first five months of this year, Baghdad's main morgue had received 6,000 bodies, most of whom had died violently.

In an apparent effort to appease anger in the Sunni Arab minority over allegations of random detentions and mistreatment of prisoners, al-Maliki said 2,500 Iraqi detainees would be freed from US and Iraqi-run jails to promote "reconciliation and national dialogue."

The first batch of about 500 detainees will be released on Wednesday and others will follow after their cases are reviewed, he said.

But the Shiite prime minister stressed that the release plan excludes loyalists of ousted leader Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Baath Party as well as "terrorists whose hands are stained with the blood of the Iraqi people."

The Sunni Arab minority provides the backbone of the insurgency that has kept Iraq in chaos.

Al-Maliki, who announced a plan last month for restoring order in Baghdad and has pledged to take over security in the country from US and other foreign troops within 18 months, acknowledged the deteriorating security situation in the capital and other areas.

He offered condolences to the families of those killed on Sunday when masked gunmen ordered passengers off two minivans carrying students north of Baghdad, separated Shiites from Sunni Arabs and then killed the Shiites.

But he made no mention of the bold daylight kidnappings Monday, in which gunmen in police uniforms raided a business district in central Baghdad, seizing 50 people, including travelers, merchants and vendors selling tea and sandwiches.

Both Shiites and Sunnis work in the area.

Iraqi Maj Gen Abdul Azizi Mohammed Jassim, in charge of Defense Ministry operations, told reporters that two of the captives had been freed but would provide no other details.

The Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry, which oversees police, denied its forces were behind the kidnappings.

Suspicion fell on militias, which are believed to have infiltrated police forces and have killed hundreds in sectarian violence, personal vendettas and kidnappings for ransom.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni Arab political party, accused the Interior Ministry of trying to cover up police involvement in the latest abductions and appealed to religious and political leaders to intervene to end the violence.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, a prominent Sunni politician, called for the government and US-led forces to step up action against such attacks.

"The killing operations have become a phenomena," al-Dulaimi said.

"Fifty Iraqis have been abducted and the Iraqi officials have done nothing to stop those behind these terrorist acts." He also urged the speedy appointment of interior and defence ministers -- key security posts that al-Maliki has been unable to fill because of disagreement among Iraqi's fractured ethnic and religious parties.

The Bush administration also is eager for the security posts to be filled, hoping a broad-based government will drain support for the insurgency and restore order in Baghdad and elsewhere, enabling US-led forces to go home.

The US military said on Monday that it had handed over responsibility for operating patrols in the volatile, Sunni-dominated Anbar province to an Iraqi army unit.

It said the Iraqi army's 1st Division officially took control of a military base between Ramadi and Fallujah on Friday from US Army's 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment.

First Published: Jun 07, 2006 11:08 IST