Nearly 600 prisoners freed in Iraq

This came a day after a day after PM Nuri al-Maliki said a total of 2,500 would be freed to help foster national reconciliation.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2006 14:29 IST

Almost 600 prisoners were released in Iraq on Wednesday, state television reported, a day after new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said a total of 2,500 would be freed to help foster national reconciliation.

It was one of the biggest such releases of prisoners held in Iraqi or American detention since US-led forces invaded the country three years ago to topple Saddam Hussein.

"I spent 16 months in jail without any specific reason. They only questioned me once, accusing me of funding terrorism," said one of more than 100 people freed in Baghdad.

He said he had been arrested by Iraqi forces and then handed over to the US-run Abu Ghraib prison.

"I'm happy to return to my family," added Youssef Khidr, 38, looking exhausted.

Most of those in detention are believed held on suspicion of involvement in the insurgency.

The move by Maliki appeared to be an attempt to shore up his own authority at a time when rivalries within his ruling Shi'ite Alliance have cast doubt over his effectiveness.

State television, citing the Justice Ministry, said a total of 594 people had been freed across Iraq

Many of those in detention -- estimated at more than 28,000 -- are from Saddam's once dominant Sunni community, which forms the backbone of an insurgency against the US-backed, Shi'ite-led government.

Maliki, who has pledged to heal sectarian wounds and crush the insurgency, said in a televised statement on Tuesday that the prisoner release would free those who had no clear evidence against them or had been detained mistakenly.

Initially, 500 people would be let out on Wednesday, he said, but did not give details. It was not immediately clear how many of them were in Iraqi or US custody.

Maliki had cited the release of those imprisoned without just cause as one of his priorities when his cabinet took office in May.

Such detentions, by Iraqi and US security forces, have been a major source of popular discontent.

But "Saddam loyalists" or "terrorists" would not be freed.

A UN report last month said there were 28,700 detainees in Iraq, including 5,000 held by the Interior Ministry even though it should only detain people for short periods of time.

First Published: Jun 07, 2006 14:29 IST