Iraqi prisoners released from US custody


The US Army has freed scores of prisoners, including a number of children, from custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.

The chief US civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, announced the amnesty for so-called low-threat detainees yesterday, saying that as part of US efforts to bring about reconciliation in Iraq, the
military would be releasing some 500 prisoners.   

It has been reported that of the 100 inmates to be freed today, 28 are understood to be children.

Hundreds of Iraqis hoping friends and relatives would be among them, gathered outside the prison at dawn, many holding photos of loved ones. But they had to wait until mid-afternoon for the gates to open.

Two US Army trucks loaded with prisoners left what has been renamed Baghdad Central Penitentiary and appeared to make for central Baghdad.

Friends and relatives immediately jumped into vehicles and set off in pursuit of the trucks, escorted by Humvees, sending up clouds of dust.

They honked their horns and screamed out of car windows with a mix of anger and relief, asking where the trucks were going.

The prisoners were driven about two kilometres and dropped off under a highway bridge. Wearing civilian clothes, they shouted and cheered as they were greeted by loved ones, many of them with tears in their eyes.

But amid the scenes of jubilation, there were still many angry and disappointed people. Several women holding photographs quickly realised their husbands, fathers or sons were not among those released, and broke down in tears.

"When will they free my son?" screamed one mother. 

One of the men released said that now he was out he would take any opportunity to attack American troops. "I'm free, but now I will attack them," he said, anger and bitterness in his voice.

The man, who declined to give his name, said he was detained in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, several months ago and had been poorly treated by the Americans in Abu Ghraib.