Secretary of State Colin Powell is downplaying the sweeping prisoner release in Iraq. Mr. Powell said many of the newly freed prisoners could soon be back in jail.
The Iraqi government said it is a complete and comprehensive amnesty. Secretary Powell suggests it is a political ploy by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein designed to win domestic and international support. "This is the kind of manipulation he uses to try to paint himself as something other than what he is, a brutal dictator," he said.
The amnesty was extended to both criminal and political prisoners. Mr. Powell told the ABC television program This Week, many of Saddam Hussein's opponents could be rearrested soon. "Do you really think if these people are dangerous to the regime, that they are going to be allowed out and stay out? Or are they going to be back in jail in about three-days' time?" he said.
The decree marks the first time in his 23-year rule that Saddam Hussein has pardoned all political prisoners. The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Iraqi regime of holding thousands of political prisoners and torturing and executing its political opponents.