Video: Ex-Saddam aides released

updated 12/19/2005 7:53:10 PM ET 2005-12-20T00:53:10

About 24 top former officials in Saddam Hussein’s regime, including a biological weapons expert known as “Dr. Germ,” have been released from jail, while a militant group released a video Monday of what it said was the killing of an American hostage.

The first results of Thursday’s parliamentary election were released, with officials saying the Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, got about 58 percent of the votes from 89 percent of ballot boxes counted in Baghdad province.

Across Iraq, meanwhile, demonstrations broke out to protest a government decision to raise the price of gasoline, heating and cooking fuel, and the oil minister threatened to resign over the development.

An Iraqi lawyer said the 24 or 25 officials from Saddam’s government were released from jail without charges, and some have already left the country.

“The release was an American-Iraqi decision and in line with an Iraqi government ruling made in December 2004, but hasn’t been enforced until after the elections in an attempt to ease the political pressure in Iraq,” said the lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref.

Among them were Rihab Taha, a British-educated biological weapons expert, who was known as “Dr. Germ” for her role in making bio-weapons in the 1980s, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as “Mrs. Anthrax,” a former top Baath Party official and biotech researcher, Aref said.

“Because of security reasons, some of them want to leave the country,” he said. He declined to elaborate, but noted “some have already left Iraq today.”

Military statement
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, would say only that eight individuals formerly designated as high-value detainees were released Saturday after a board process found they were no longer a security threat and no charges would be filed against them.

Neither the U.S. military or Iraqi officials would disclose any of the names, but a legal official in Baghdad said Taha and Ammash were among those released.

The official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said those released also included Hossam Mohammed Amin, head of the weapons inspections directorate, and Aseel Tabra, an Iraqi Olympic Committee official under Odai Saddam Hussein, the former leader’s son.

Hostage video
The video from the extremist group The Islamic Army of Iraq was posted on a Web site and showed a man being shot in the back of the head.

The group claimed it had killed civilian contractor Ronald Allen Schulz, a native of North Dakota.

The video did not show the face of the victim, however, and it was impossible to identify him conclusively. The victim was kneeling with his back to the camera, with his hands tied behind his back and blindfolded with an Arab headdress when he was shot.

The killing showed the man being shot as he kneeled in an open, empty area of dirt. The video also showed Schulz’s identity card.

In a separate video, shown on a split screen with the killing, the extremist group also showed a picture of Schulz alive. The group had aired the same video of Schulz alive when he was first taken hostage earlier this month.

The group first claimed to have killed Schulz in an Internet posting last week. It had said then that it would show the killing.

Schulz, a civilian contractor, has been identified by the extremist group as a security consultant for the Iraqi Housing Ministry, although neighbors and family from Alaska, where he lives, say he is an industrial electrician who has worked on contracts around the world.

Schulz served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1991. He moved to Alaska six years ago, and friends and family say he is divorced.

German hostage freed
The German government, meanwhile, said kidnappers had freed a German woman taken hostage with her driver in northern Iraq more than three weeks ago. Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old aid worker and archaeologist, was reported in good condition in the care of the German Embassy in Baghdad. It was unclear whether Osthoff’s Iraqi driver had also been freed.

In other violence Monday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a children’s hospital in western Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding 11, including seven policemen, officials said.

Police believe the bomb had been targeting a passing convoy carrying a police colonel, who was among the injured.

In western Baghdad, gunmen attacked the convoy of Deputy Baghdad Gov. Ziad Tariq, killing three civilians and wounding three of Tariq’s bodyguards, police said. Tariq was not injured.

The fuel prices were raised Sunday — some as much as nine times — to curb a growing black market, Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

A gallon of imported and super gasoline in Iraq was raised to about 68 cents, but Iraqis were upset by the fivefold increase. The price of locally produced gas was raised to about 48 cents per gallon, a sevenfold increase.

In Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, police fired into the air to disperse the hundreds of protesters who had gathered in front of the provincial government headquarters. The demonstrators, however, didn’t leave, and scuffles broke out with police.

Drivers blocked roads and set tires on fire near fuel stations in the southern city of Basra, and hundreds demonstrated outside the governor’s headquarters to protest the increases.

Oil Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum said when the Cabinet increased prices, it also decided that the extra money would be used to support more than 2 million low-income families so they wouldn’t be burdened. Some aid money was supposed to reach the families before the price hikes, but that didn’t happen, he said.

“Dr. Ibrahim will submit his resignation to the Iraqi government if the situation continues as is,” he said, referring to himself. “We should take in consideration the living conditions and the economic situation of the citizens.”

Iraq’s oil minister has previously said that cheap domestic fuel prices had encouraged smuggling to other countries. Iraq’s government has continued the practice of ousted leader Saddam Hussein of heavily subsidizing fuel prices.

Vote counting
With 89 percent of the ballot boxes counted in Baghdad province — Iraq’s largest district — preliminary results showed the United Iraqi Alliance received 1,403,901 votes, or about 58 percent, while the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance party got 451,782 votes, and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s Iraqi National List with 327,174 votes, the electoral commission said.

The commission did not say how many people voted in Baghdad province or provide further details. Baghdad is Iraq’s biggest electoral district with 2,161 candidates running for 59 of the 275 seats in Iraq’s parliament.

In a speech Sunday, President Bush praised the vote and warned against a pullout of U.S. forces.

Hours before Bush spoke, Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Baghdad, saying the election’s strong turnout had brought Iraq closer to taking control of its own security. But Cheney also cautioned against a rapid U.S. withdrawal.

Bush said last week’s voting would not end violence in Iraq but “means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.” He warned that a U.S. troop pullout would “signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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