Tuesday, December 20, 2005

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan has prevented the United States from bringing eight former Iraqi detainees onto its soil, in a move that has strained the normally solid relationship between the United States and its Arab ally.

Jordan’s refusal was applauded by Iraq’s national security adviser, Mouaffaq Rubaie, whose government objected to the releases. “I certainly hope Jordan turns them down,” he said.

Jordanian sources said negotiations are under way to find other Arab countries willing to take in the former Saddam Hussein regime members, who were among 24 persons reportedly freed from U.S.-run detention facilities over the weekend.

None of them ever was charged with any crime, but all were investigated for links to illegal regime activities. They include two scientists accused of working on Saddam’s biological-weapons programs.

Negotiators are working on a proposal that 24 freed “high-value detainees” will be distributed among Syria, Egypt and two of the Persian Gulf states, with Jordan also accepting a small number. So far, it is thought that one of the lesser-known former detainees has been allowed in.

If new homes cannot be found for the released detainees, at least some of them face being arrested again by the Iraqi government.

Jordan’s official spokesman, Nasser Jawdeh, said his country had “not been consulted” about taking in the prisoners. He declined to comment further.

Some, like microbiologist Huda Ammash, said they wished to return to their homes in Iraq.

“She says she has no enemies,” said her sister, Ittihad Ammash.

But prisoners’ rights lawyer Badie Izzat told The Washington Times from Baghdad that the majority of released high-value detainees were electing to leave the country. The United States had told the detainees it would not protect any detainees who now choose to remain inside Iraq, Mr. Izzat said.

Iraq’s government has expressed exasperation at the release of the prisoners. Mr. Rubaie said two judges from the same court that is trying Saddam and seven co-defendants for murder are “very angry” because they had long ago issued arrest warrants for several of the freed prisoners.

He said he could confirm that both biochemical scientists — Huda Ammash, known as “Mrs. Anthrax”, and Rihab Taha, dubbed “Dr. Germ” — would be detained by Iraqi forces if they left U.S. custody. He declined to say what charges they faced.

The national security adviser said the incident had showed “we need to work hard to improve the highly inadequate level of coordination between U.S. forces and ourselves.”

Mr. Rubaie said he was worried that the United States now would release “a whole lot more” — not only of the estimated 46 remaining high-value detainees, but also from the 14,000 lower-level detainees in U.S. hands.

Asked where the eight high-value detainees were now, he said: “I can only say: ‘No comment.’”

Distributed by World News & Features

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