- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

AMMAN, Jordan — U.S. forces yesterday flew eight newly released “high-value” Iraqi detainees out of the country aboard a special military aircraft, in a move other officials said was aimed at furthering a secret peace process with Sunni hard-line groups.

The releases, made Saturday but announced only yesterday, angered Iraqi government officials who pledged to hunt down and recapture some of the detainees, including former leaders of Saddam Hussein’s government and security forces.

Among those released or about to be freed is Rihab Taha, who was dubbed “Dr. Germ” by the popular press in the West and admitted to producing germ-warfare agents. A State Department official told the Associated Press she was no longer considered a security threat.

In a late-night telephone interview with The Washington Times, the Iraqi government’s national security adviser said that U.S. forces had taken the eight released detainees to Jordan.

“We will certainly claim them back, and we will follow them wherever they go,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie. “The Iraqi judiciary will follow them.”

He said an Iraqi judge had issued arrest warrants for the detainees several weeks ago, and that their release from U.S. custody had not been authorized by any Iraqi judicial process.

Asked whether the interim Iraqi government was upset with the United States for the releases, Mr. al-Rubaie said: “They are our partners and big brothers.” He then laughed.

An additional 16 high-value detainees — most of them depicted in a U.S. pack of cards identifying top Saddam officials — are to be released imminently or have already been freed, according to a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said a military review board had determined that the detainees were no longer a security threat and would not be charged with any crimes.

U.S. officials said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari vehemently opposed an earlier plan to release 24 detainees before last week’s parliamentary elections in hopes of boosting Sunni support for the political process.

“We were worried that if we had released them at that time, a number of them would have ended up dead,” said one American official.

Family members of some of the released detainees said they had not yet heard from their relatives.

“We are in a very bad state, fearing our loved one will be locked up again,” said Sarwat Suleiman, whose sister-in-law, microbiologist Huda Ammash, was reportedly among those released.

Mrs. Ammash, who has been nicknamed “Mrs. Anthrax” by reporters, had been questioned extensively by U.S. weapons investigators but consistently denied any involvement in developing biological weapons.

Asked about the reports of her release, her husband, Ahmed Makki Mohammed Saeed, said he had heard nothing from her. “We’ll believe it when we see it,” he said by telephone.

Other released detainees include Hossam Mohammed Amin, a former senior official who sparred for years with U.N. weapons inspectors, and Aseel Tabra, who served as private secretary to Uday Hussein, Saddam’s now-deceased son.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Americans were determined to send signals to hard-line Sunnis that their interests would be taken into account in the new Iraq. The hard-liners had demanded prisoner releases as a condition for ending the violent insurgency that has hindered reconstruction efforts.

The Shi’ite-dominated government, however, is anxious to show it will not be subservient to American wishes, especially where Iraqi sovereignty and decision-making is concerned.

The United States already has helped secure the release of 2,500 prisoners from among an estimated 14,000 mainly Sunni suspected insurgents, the U.S. official said.

• Distributed by World News & Features

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