- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — An Associated Press photographer was released from more than two years in U.S. military custody yesterday.

Bilal Hussein, 36, was freed at a checkpoint in Baghdad, where he was taken by the military aboard a prisoner bus. He left U.S. custody wearing a traditional Iraqi robe and appeared in good health.

The U.S. military had accused Mr. Hussein of links to insurgents, but did not file specific charges. In December, military authorities brought his case into the Iraqi court system for possible trial.

But an Iraqi judicial panel this month dismissed all proceedings against Mr. Hussein and ordered his release. A U.S. military statement Monday said Mr. Hussein is no longer considered a threat.

“I want to thank all the people working in AP. … I have spent two years in prison even though I was innocent. I thank everybody,” Mr. Hussein said after being freed.

AP President Tom Curley said Mr. Hussein “is safely back with AP and his family, and it is a great relief to us.”

Mr. Hussein and the AP denied any improper contacts, saying Mr. Hussein was doing the normal work of a photographer in a war zone. He was detained by U.S. Marines on April 12, 2006, in Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad.

Mr. Hussein was a member of the AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005, and his detention drew protests from rights groups and press-freedom advocates.

In other developments yesterday, Iraq’s government removed the top police commander in the southern city of Basra, weeks after a botched crackdown on militia fighters there triggered the country’s worst fighting in months, Reuters news agency reported.

But the Defense Ministry denied earlier comments that the top military commander in the southern city, Army Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Furaiji, had also been replaced.

Police Maj. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, who was replaced, and Gen. al-Furaiji, are among the country’s most senior commanders and were widely respected by U.S. and British military leaders.

Last week, Iraq fired 1,300 soldiers and police for failing to stand and fight during the operation.

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