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500 Abu Ghraib Detainees Freed

The U.S. gesture comes ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and a key referendum.

October 02, 2005|From Reuters

BAGHDAD — Clutching new copies of the Koran and given $25 apiece, about 500 Iraqi prisoners were released from the U.S. military's Abu Ghraib jail on Saturday in a goodwill gesture ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"I want you to go back to your families and say hello to them ... go back as good Iraqi citizens," Deputy Prime Minister Abed Mutlak Jibouri told the men, urging them to take part in an Oct. 15 referendum on the proposed constitution.

"Don't listen to those who tell you don't vote -- vote! You are an Iraqi, and you have the right to participate."

The U.S. military agreed to an Iraqi government request to free more than 1,000 prisoners from Abu Ghraib in stages before the start of Ramadan this week. It chose detainees who an Iraqi-led review board found had not committed serious crimes.

Iraqi authorities said they hoped the release of the second batch of detainees Saturday would promote goodwill before the constitutional referendum.

U.S. forces are holding about 11,800 prisoners at several detention centers in Iraq, with the largest number, 6,300, being held at Camp Bucca in the south.

On Saturday, the detainees due for release echoed concern that U.S. military detentions were too arbitrary and too long.

"I was arrested at the beginning just based on accusations!" one man shouted from behind the barbed-wire barricades. "Just tell me, what should I do not to come back here?"

Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, commander of U.S. prisons in Iraq, told the detainees through an interpreter that only about 1.5% of those released return to Abu Ghraib -- although he did little to assuage fears.

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