US frees 500 prisoners from Abu Ghraib

BAGHDAD - Five hundred prisoners walked free from the US military's Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq on Tuesday, released in a goodwill gesture to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The detainees were presented with a Koran and US$25 on their release which marked Eid al-Fitr celebrations. Their release was in addition to 1,000 prisoners set free in October at the start of the month of fasting.

All 1,500, who also received traditional white shirts, were released after their cases went before an Iraqi-led review board and were found not to have committed serious or violent crimes, the US military said in a statement.

"These detainees have confessed to their crimes, renounced violence and pledged to be good citizens of Iraq," it said.

Deputy Prime Minister Abed Mutlak al-Jibouri and other ministers were present for the release, requested by the Iraqi government, but media were not invited to Abu Ghraib, a vast complex about 15 km west of Baghdad.

US forces are holding 13,885 detainees, including 5,074 at Abu Ghraib, behind barbed wire at several facilities across Iraq, up from a total of about 11,800 a month ago, a spokesman for the US military's prison operations said.

Iraqi critics say US military detentions are too arbitrary and too long.

Abu Ghraib became notorious for the images of US soldiers mocking, physically abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners that emerged last year. US military officials and Iraqi authorities have since been at pains to show Abu Ghraib now being run as a model prison.

- REUTERS

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