Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Iraqi woman prisoner may be released

This story could turn into a blockbuster! As anyone who's been alive these past few days knows, one British and two American construction contractors were taken hostage from their home in Baghdad by the al-Qaeda-connected Tawhid and Jihad group. The group has demanded that all women held in U.S.-controlled prisons be released.

The group has already murdered the two Americans, Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, and is threatening to do the same to the British hostage Kenneth Bigley but has set no deadline.

Earlier today the AP ran a story that

Iraqi authorities together with U.S. forces have decided to free one of only two high-profile women prisoners currently in American custody, a ministry spokesman said Wednesday. [emphasis added]

Of course, this has nothing to do with the kidnappings.

"The Iraqi authorities have agreed with coalition forces to conditionally release Rihab Rashid Taha on bail", Ibrahim said. "The decision . . . has nothing to do with the threat made by the kidnappers," he said.

Now comes a Reuters story that equivocates.

With time running out to save a British hostage in Iraq, U.S. officials said on Wednesday they were not about to free Iraqi women prisoners as demanded by an al Qaeda ally whose group has already beheaded two Americans.

There was some confusion, however, as the Iraqi government said it might free -- but not immediately -- one of two weapons scientists who Washington says are the only women in detention. And it was unclear whether Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's demand that all women prisoners be released referred to this pair at all.

Officials in the Iraqi Justice Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that one of the two women the United States says it holds in custody in Iraq, Rihab Taha, would be freed. They said the move was unrelated to the demands of Zarqawi's group.

But the U.S. embassy said later that the two women, Taha and Huda Ammash, dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by U.S. forces, would not be released soon: "The two women are in legal and physical custody of the multinational forces in Iraq and neither will be released imminently," a spokesman said.

Kassim Daoud, national security adviser in the Iraqi government, said Taha was one of three1 detainees who may be given conditional release, but that the three would not be freed for some days.

"Iraqi judges decided to release them because they didn't have any evidence. The judges decided on a conditional release. It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he told a news conference. [emphasis added]

What we are witnessing here is a confrontation between the Iraqi "government" and the U.S. Both the Iraqis and the Americans are claiming jurisdiction, but regardless of jurisdictional claims, it is the Americans who are actually holding the women.

In honor of Allawi's visit to the U.S. (and probably in an effort to mollify certain members of Congress), the State Department has delivered a package of bullshit to the Washington Post, which they have obligingly printed.

Three months after the handover of power, the interim government of Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is making most key decisions politically and militarily, while the new U.S. Embassy is increasingly deferring and acting in a supporting role, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials.

"The changes, they're fundamental. Ambassador Bremer had a veto. . . . Now you have sovereign government," Finance Minister Adel Abdel-Mehdi said. "Of course, it's a weak sovereign government. But even so, the relationship has changed. There's a clear shift. Now the government is taking the initiative." [emphasis added]

If the Iraqi government is sovereign, why can't it command release of these prisoners?

Meanwhile, the family of Briton Kenneth Bigley has been imploring Tony Blair to meet the kidnappers' demands, as the Australian reports

... Mr Bigley's family, who made a plea for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to meet the kidnappers' demands, said last night there was a "glimmer of hope" at news a female Iraqi scientist, one of two women whose freedom had been demanded by the kidnappers, might be released from jail.

"It is a glimmer of hope, a glimmer of hope we did not have yesterday," Mr Bigley's brother Paul said.

The earlier account clearly indicates that the U.S. was involved in the decision to release a prisoner, which then appears to be contradicted by the subsequent account. One possibility is that the U.S. military or diplomats on the ground in Iraq were involved, but their decision has been countermanded by Washington.

Now that the cat is out of the bag that a prisoner may be released, a conflict between Bush and Blair could easily arise over this one.


1 All news accounts that I've seen refer to a claim that there are only two women prisoners. "Detainee" is, of course, a gender-neutral word. Are there two women and a man, two men and a woman, or is the original assertion that there are only two women incorrect? [back]

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