- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq will release women detainees from the infamous Abu Ghraib prison today in a move that might help free a U.S. reporter abducted by insurgents, one of a number of foreigners taken hostage in recent weeks.

An Iraqi Justice Ministry official said 424 detainees were to be freed today after a review of their cases by a joint Iraqi-U.S. board. These would include six of the nine women known to be in detention.

The kidnappers of U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, seized on a Baghdad street on Jan. 7, have threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women detainees are set free. The deadline set for her has passed; her condition is unknown.

The official denied that the release of the women had anything to do with kidnappers’ demands, and U.S. forces have stressed they do not negotiate with hostage-takers.

But a recent spike in hostage-taking of foreigners has embarrassed the government.

“Government services are doing all they can to free people kidnapped and detained,” President Jalal Talabani’s office said yesterday, quoting National Security Minister Abdul Karim al-Anizi, who met with the president.

More than 250 foreigners have been seized since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. A number of them, including Westerners, have been killed.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are searching for two German engineers, Rene Braunlich and Thomas Nilzchke, the most recent kidnap victims, seized at gunpoint Tuesday by men posing as Iraqi soldiers in Beiji in northern Iraq.

“We are trying at the moment to obtain any information possible,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin, adding that no contact had been established with the captors yet.

The two Germans arrived in Iraq only on Sunday for a brief assignment at a detergent plant, the Associated Press reported citing German and Iraqi officials.

Two Kenyan telecommunications engineers were abducted last week after their bodyguards were gunned down in Baghdad, and there was still no news on the fate of four Western peace activists seized in November.

Meanwhile, a Jordanian hostage said in a videotape his captors had set a new deadline to execute him.

Meanwhile, the military said a U.S. Marine was killed by small-arms fire Tuesday in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad.

A prominent Sunni Arab cleric, Karim Jassim Mohammed, 39, was fatally shot yesterday by police at a checkpoint heading into the northern city of Samarra, police said.

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