Iraq Asks U.S. to Free Six Female Prisoners

Iraq has asked U.S. authorities to release six of the eight Iraqi women in military custody but not as part of a bid to free American journalist Jill Carroll, an Iraqi government official said Thursday.

Militants holding Carroll, 28, have demanded U.S. authorities release all Iraqi female detainees or else they would kill the freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor newspaper, who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad.

Images showing Carroll surrounded by armed and masked hostage-takers were shown Thursday by Al-Jazeera television. The 20 seconds of silent footage also show her talking to the camera. An editor from Al-Jazeera said it was from the same video the station had obtained and aired on Tuesday.

The U.S. military has said eight Iraqi women are in military detention. An Iraqi government commission reviewing detainee cases recommended to U.S. authorities on Monday that six of them be released.

An official from the Human Rights Ministry, which sits on the commission along with representatives of the Defense and Justice ministries, said the call to free the women was not made in response to demands from Carroll's kidnappers. They threatened to kill her unless the women were freed by Friday night.

"There was no outside pressure on the commission" to recommend releasing the women, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal from insurgents. "This recommendation came after we studied the women's files provided by the American military."

U.S. officials refused to comment Wednesday on whether any of the women were set to be released.

A still photograph of Carroll from the videotape on Al-Jazeera's Web site carried a logo reading "The Revenge Brigade," a group that was not known from previous claims of responsibility of violence in Iraq.

Insurgents in Iraq, mainly Sunni Arab militants, have kidnapped more than 240 foreigners and killed at least 39 of them. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, more Iraqis have been abducted either by insurgents or gangs seeking ransoms.

An official from a prominent Sunni political organization called for Carroll's release and denounced all kidnappings.

"We condemn the abductions of innocent civilians and journalists and call for the immediate release of the American reporter and all innocent people who have nothing to do with the (U.S.-led) occupation," said Harith al-Obeidi of the Conference for Iraq's People.

President Bush ignored shouted questions Wednesday about what his administration is doing to find Carroll. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said her safe return was a priority for the administration" but refused to say more "because of the sensitivity of the situation."

David Cook, the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor, told a news conference that Carroll's work has demonstrated she is respectful of Arab culture and people, and the newspaper has shown it treats different cultures and viewpoints fairly.