US may free female Iraqi prisoner

The Iraqi justice ministry said it was prepared to release Rihab Taha — a biologist nicknamed “Dr Germ” for her suspected involvement in Saddam Hussein’s alleged microbiological weapons program.

“The Iraqi government thinks Rihab Taha is no longer a threat to national security and that she can obtain a conditional release if a bail is paid,” ministry spokesman Nuri Abdelrahim Ibrahim said.

Taha, and fellow Iraqi Huda Amash, also known as “Dr Anthrax”, are said to be the only women still detained by the US-led forces in Iraq.

The Tawhid wal Jihad group, led by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, which has executed two US hostages and is threatening to kill a Briton still held captive, has demanded the release of all women held by US-led forces in Iraq.

However, Ibrahim said any release of Taha would not be linked with the conditions set by Zarqawi, who is the most wanted man in Iraq and has a $US25 million ($A35.6 million) bounty on his head.

On Monday the group issued a video of the decapitation of US hostage Eugene Armstrong and extended by one day its 48-hour ultimatum to Washington and London over the female prisoners.

A second US hostage, Jack Hensley, was claimed to have been beheaded on Tuesday night.

The gruesome killings leave British engineer Kenneth Bigley, whose family made a poignant plea for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to meet the kidnappers’ demands, the only survivor of the trio kidnapped last week.

The US military could not confirm that the release of Taha – a biologist nicknamed Dr Germ for her suspected involvement in Saddam Hussein’s alleged microbiological weapons program – had been considered.

“It is news to me,” said a senior US military officer in Baghdad. “I just came out of the morning briefing and nothing was mentioned about the two women prisoners being released.”

“It is the policy of the United States not to negotiate with terrorists,” he said, adding: “The Iraqis are taking the lead in many areas and if that is the course of action they decide to take, it is their country and their prerogative.”

Earlier President George W. Bush had said Washington would not negotiate.

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