Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wire: US Frees Iraqi Accused in Deaths of 5 American Soldiers

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009 -- Newswire services reported this morning that the U.S. military has released a Shiite militant with suspected ties to Iranian backed fighters who is accused of being involved in the 2007 killing of five American soldiers, officials said Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported that Laith al-Khazali's release comes amid reports of negotiations with his militia group to free at least one of five British hostages.

AP reported the following details:
Al-Khazali and his brother Qais, who were both detained in March 2007, are accused of organizing a bold raid on a local government headquarters in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers on Jan. 20, 2007. The brothers are leading members Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, which is allegedly backed by Iran.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said the release was part of "the wider Iraqi government reconciliation process of reaching out to groups that are willing to set aside violence in favor of taking part in the political process."

The spokesman declined to be identified in line with department policy.

A follower of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also said that al-Khazali has returned home to Baghdad's mainly Shiite district of Sadr City. The Sadrist official spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to comment on the issue.

The U.S. military has been releasing detainees or transferring them to Iraqi custody as part of a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1.
Al-Khazali's release takes on added significance because it follows reports of an agreement that one of five British hostages would be freed in exchange for the release of 10 members of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, AP said.

The U.S. military believes the extremist network is one of the main so-called Iranian-backed "special groups" that have refused to adhere to a cease-fire called by al-Sadr. The other is Kataib Hezbollah or Brigades of the Party of God.

AP said Iran's government denies having any links to Shiite extremists in Iraq, but American officials believe the two groups are controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Brigade, which trains Shiite militants from various Middle Eastern countries.

(Report from newswire sources.)

Source: US frees Iraqi accused in 5 soldier deaths

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