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594 Iraqi prisoners released
Detroit Free Press/AP
June 8, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Hundreds of newly freed Iraqi prisoners kissed the ground after being dropped at bus stations Wednesday as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki started the largest such release since the U.S.-led invasion in a bid to appease Sunni Arabs and promote reconciliation in his fractured nation.

Sunni political leaders welcomed the initiative, although some expressed fear that the releases would be offset by more arrests. There have been accusations that Sunnis have suffered arbitrary detentions and even torture at the hands of the Shi'ite-led government.

The government has promised to release 2,000 detainees whose cases have been reviewed, in batches of about 500. The first 594 were freed Wednesday from U.S.- and Iraqi-run prisons around the country, including Abu Ghraib. Those freed were not guilty of serious crimes and had agreed to renounce violence.

Al-Maliki has made security and reconciliation a priority of his new government. But he also has pledged to crack down on violence often blamed on the Sunni-led insurgency. He said the release plan excludes loyalists of ousted President Saddam Hussein, as well as known terrorists.

One of the newly freed prisoners, Mohammed Jassim Hameed, said he was arrested Dec. 19, 2004, and accused of kidnapping employees of a cell phone company. He said he had spent time in several U.S. detention centers, including Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca.

"They used to give us the same food every day," he said. "We were fed up with it."

Iraqi officials have said there is an agreement to release up to 14,000 detainees once their cases have been reviewed. A United Nations report last month said there were 28,700 detainees in Iraq. Most are thought to be Sunni Arabs.

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