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US Releases Former Iraqi Health Ministry Officials


The U.S. military has released two former Iraqi health ministry officials who were being held on charges of supporting Shi'ite death squads. The Iraqi government asked the men be set free for lack of evidence, even though there were allegations of threats against witnesses. Daniel Schearf reports from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

U.S. military spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner Wednesday confirmed the release of the Iraqi health ministry's former deputy minister and chief of security.

"Based on a request from the government of Iraq this morning, coalition forces released the former Deputy Minister of Health, Hakim al-Zamili, and the former Ministry of Health Facilities Protective Service Chief, Hameed al-Shimari, from the detention facility where they were being held at the government of Iraq's request," said General Bergner.

The officials were arrested in 2007 on charges of using their positions to help Shi'ite militias kidnap and murder Sunni hospital patients and their relatives.

It was the first time high-ranking Shi'ite officials were brought up on terrorism charges since the forming of a new Iraqi government.

But, a court on Monday dismissed the case against them for lack of evidence. Several witnesses for the prosecution failed to show up in court after allegedly receiving threats.

Bergner says the U.S. military is still holding Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali." The key henchman of Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death and is to be hanged this month for his role in gassing thousands of Iraqi Kurds.

"The government of Iraq has not presented the multinational force with a request yet for the release of Majid [for execution]," he said. "And, once that does happen we will fulfill our responsibility once that request has been submitted to us."

Also Wednesday Iranian and Iraqi officials said they would meet with U.S. officials this week for a new round of security talks. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad, however, said there was nothing scheduled.

American and Iranian officials met three times last year to discuss security in Iraq. It was the first direct contact between officials of the two countries in decades. The fourth round of talks was to be held in mid February but Iran delayed the meeting without explanation.

The U.S. accuses Tehran of supplying advanced weapons to Shi'ite militias in Iraq that are used to attack U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Iran denies the charges and blames security problems in Iraq on the U.S.-led military presence.