24 of Saddam’s top former officials released from jail in Iraq

ABOUT 24 top former officials in Saddam Hussein’s regime, including a biological weapons expert known as ‘Dr Germ’, have been released from jail, while a militant group released a video yesterday of the purported killing of an American hostage.

Across Iraq, meanwhile, demonstrations broke out to protest a government decision to raise the price of petrol, heating and cooking fuel, and the oil minister threatened to resign over the development.

An Iraqi lawyer said the 24 or 25 officials from Saddam’s government were released from jail without charges, and some have already left the country.

“The release was an American-Iraqi decision and in line with an Iraqi government ruling made in December 2004, but hasn’t been enforced until after the elections in an attempt to ease the political pressure in Iraq,” said Badee Izzat Aref.

Among them were Rihab Taha, a British-educated

biological weapons expert, who was known as ‘Dr Germ’ for her role in making bio-weapons in the 1980s, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as ‘Mrs Anthrax’, a former top Baath Party official and biotech researcher, Aref said.

“Because of security reasons, some of them want to leave the country,” he said.

He declined to elaborate, but noted “some have already left Iraq today.”

Lt Col Barry Johnson, a US military spokesman in Baghdad, would say only that eight individuals formerly designated as high-value detainees were released on Saturday after a board process found they were no longer a security threat.

Neither the US military or Iraqi officials would disclose any of the names, but a legal official in Baghdad said Taha and Ammash were among those released.

The official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said those released also included Hossam Mohammed Amin, head of the weapons inspections directorate.

The video from the extremist group The Islamic Army of Iraq was posted on a website and showed a man purportedly being shot in the back of the head.

The group claimed it had killed civilian contractor Ronald Allen Schulz, a native of North Dakota.

The video did not show the face of the victim, however, and it was impossible to identify him conclusively. The victim was kneeling with his back to the camera, with his hands tied behind his back and blindfolded with an Arab headdress when he was purportedly shot. The video also showed Schulz’s identity card.

In a separate video, shown on a split screen, the extremist group showed a picture of Schulz alive. The group had aired the video of Schulz alive when he was first taken hostage earlier this month.

Schulz has been identified by the extremist group as a security consultant for the Iraqi Housing Ministry, although family and neighbours say he is an industrial electrician who has worked on contracts around the world.

Meanwhile, a US Marine was killed by small arms fire on Sunday in the town of Ramadi in central Iraq, the military said. The death brought to 2,156 the number of US service members killed since the start of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

On Monday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a children’s hospital in western Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 11, officials said.

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