By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 27, 2006
BAGHDAD, Jan. 26 -- The U.S. military freed five female Iraqi detainees Thursday, a move it said was unrelated to demands made by a group that abducted the American journalist Jill Carroll this month.
Carroll, 28, a freelance reporter working for the Christian Science Monitor, was taken on Jan. 7 in western Baghdad. In a video aired on the Arab satellite television network al-Jazeera 10 days later, her captors said she would be killed within 72 hours if U.S. authorities did not release all female Iraqis in their custody.
U.S. forces still hold at least four women, according to Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for detainee operations. In a separate statement Thursday, the military announced the detention of two more women Wednesday in the northern city of Mosul.
There was no immediate public response from Carroll's kidnappers, who call themselves the Vengeance Brigade. The five women who were released were among 420 prisoners scheduled to be freed Thursday and Friday, the military said.
"They were determined not to be a security threat," Maj. Gen Rick Lynch, a military spokesman, told reporters Thursday. "Those female detainees were released as part of our normal process, and not as a result of demands by terrorists and criminals. We don't negotiate with terrorists and criminals."
A U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said there was no indication that the women's release would lead to Carroll being freed.
"If the people holding her wish to interpret this in some way to do the right thing and let her go, then more power to them," he said. "There is no reason to believe they will and no reason to believe they won't."
Insurgents and criminal gangs have carried out a wave of kidnappings against foreigners in recent months, including two German engineers seized Tuesday. Some of those seized have been killed, others released unharmed. The status of several captives remains unknown, including four members of a U.S.- and Canadian-based Christian aid group.
Also Thursday, the U.S. military announced the death of a soldier whose vehicle came under rocket attack Wednesday near the western city of Ramadi.
Lynch pointed to growing signs of conflict between Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters from the group al Qaeda in Iraq, which is led by the Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi. Iraqi insurgents have killed six senior al Qaeda leaders in recent weeks, Lynch said, referring to the local insurgency as "a colleague in this operation against Zarqawi."
U.S. officials have long said they hoped to separate local insurgents from foreigners and incorporate the Iraqis into the country's political process.
Lynch said the military and diplomats had been "reaching out" to some Iraqi insurgents, but he called negotiations with those known to be conducting attacks on U.S. forces a "red line that we refuse to cross."
"The idea of driving a wedge between the terrorists and foreign fighters and the Iraqis that support them, and the Iraqi population, is taking place," he said. "And the local insurgents have become part of the solution."
Iraqi insurgent leaders, while acknowledging friction with Zarqawi's fighters, rejected the notion that they were working in concert with the Americans.
"There are disagreements over the car bombs that killed Shiites and innocent people in markets. But we cannot cooperate with U.S. forces to fight our brothers in al Qaeda," said Sheik Fadhil Falluji, a leader in the Islamic Army insurgent group in Karmah, east of the city of Fallujah. "They want to create strife among the resistance."
Also Thursday, three assassinations took place in the restive northern city of Kirkuk. In separate incidents, police said, gunmen killed an official with the city's Integrity Commission and the brother of a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Police also recovered the bullet-riddled body of a butcher who supplied the Iraqi army.
Special correspondents Omar Fekeiki and Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.