Iraq Promises to Free Four Americans With AM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq said four American hostages it described as elderly and sick would soon be freed. It said the move was in response to a plea from a private group.
Information Minister Latif Jassim, at a Baghdad news conference, did not say exactly when the four would be released, but said it would be soon.
He did not disclose the names of those to be freed, but later, the official Iraqi News Agency identified them as Randall Trinah, Dr. Abdul Kanji, Raymond Galles and Michael Barnes.
The report did not give their ages or hometowns.
It said they were being released in response to a petition from a group called the Arab-American Reconciliation Society, and that a delegation from the group would accompany them back to the United States.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman welcomed the news, and said it was seeking details from Iraq’s foreign ministry.
″It is good news, our top priority is to get Americans out,″ said an embassy spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Other Americans have been released in groups at the intervention of another Arab-American group. The Rev. Jesse Jackson brought out another group.
The Iraqi official accused President Bush of using the hostage issue as a pretext for a military strike, which he said could come any time.
Jassim added that reporters will be allowed to go to strategic installations to visit hostages who are being held as human shields against attack.
″All the Americans at sites have complete freedom. They can watch TV, read books and read newspapers,″ the Iraqi official said. ″They also enjoy the friendship of Iraqi forces.″
Two smuggled letters from captive Americans made very different claims about life in Iraqi captivity. One said he had lost 35 pounds, and that he had received no mail or messages in two months of captivity.
The other described the toll of isolation as captivity stretched on.
″You can survive. But individually interned, (one) must be psychologically capable of living alone within himself,″ he wrote, adding a plea: ″Do not forget the guest hostages.″
The letter-writers were not identified, and the official releasing the letters demanded anonymity. He said non-American foreigners being freed had carried the handwritten letters addressed to the embassy.
Iraq refers to the estimated 600 foreigners interned at strategic military and industrial sites in Iraq and occupied Kuwait as guests.
The complaints coincided with a report that the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has instructed missions abroad to issue visas for foreigners wishing to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with their relatives.
The British Foreign Office dismissed the offer as ″a cynical propaganda move on the part of the Iraqis″ and advised the relatives not to go.
Several relatives told the British Broadcasting Corp. television that they intended to go.
And the Iraqi News Agency said former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had helped secure the release of more than 50 Britons in October, called on the families of ″British guests″ in Iraq to accept the offer. INA said its correspondent in London reported 10 wives would do so.
Saddam banned foreigners from leaving the country and interned some of them after the U.S.-led multinational military buildup began in the Persian Gulf. The deployment was triggered by Saddam’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Since then, some groups of foreigners have been allowed to leave. More than 250 French nationals were released this week after Iraq decided France was making a good-faith effort to resolve the crisis.
On Thursday, the official Iraqi News Agency said the National Assembly would begin deliberations this weekend on whether to allow an estimated 690 Bulgarians in Iraq and Kuwait to leave.
Saddam asked lawmakers to consider freeing the Bulgarians after a visit to Baghdad by a Bulgarian delegation headed by Vice President Atanas Semerdzhiev.