U.S. releases chief Fallujah negotiator

Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili, right, is welcomed by a friend after being released from U.S. custody on the orders of Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Monday.
Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili, right, is welcomed by a friend after being released from U.S. custody on the orders of Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Monday.Bilal Hussein / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

The Iraqi government on Monday secured the release of the chief negotiator for the city of Fallujah in a gesture apparently aimed at reviving peace talks to end the standoff in Iraq’s major insurgent bastion.

Meantime, at least 11 people died in separate attacks late Sunday, the U.S. military said Monday.

In Mosul, a car bomb killed five Iraqis and wounded 15, the U.S. military said. There was no word on what the bomber’s target may have been. Insurgents have frequently attacked U.S. forces and Iraqi security forces in Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad.

In the capital, a car bomb exploded near a police patrol fashionable Jadiriyah district, killing at six people, including three police officers, and wounding 26 others.

The attack came a day after insurgents ambushed and killed nine Iraqi policemen as they returned home from a training course in Jordan — the latest strikes in an insurgent campaign against Iraq’s new police force, which is seen as collaborating with the U.S.-back government.

Released in Fallujah
In Fallujah, city negotiator Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili was released from U.S. custody, three days after he had been detained following the breakdown of peace talks.

Al-Jumeili, who spoke to the Associated Press from his home, said he had been detained by U.S. troops, along with three others. Witnesses said the Islamic cleric had been picked up after he left a mosque following Friday prayers in a village about 10 miles south of Fallujah.

Al-Jumeili said the four men were taken to a Marine base outside Fallujah and then transported by helicopter to another location.

During his detention, Al-Jumeili said he was well treated by the Americans, and was not handcuffed or blindfolded like his companions. The other three men have not been released, he said.

The Interior Ministry said al-Jumeili was being released on the orders of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

“I would like to tell all Iraqis that spies follow them everywhere and they must be vigilant,” al-Jumeili said on being released.

He later said the Fallujah peace talks will remain suspended as a protest against his detention by U.S. troops.

U.S. forces have been waging days of air and ground assaults in the insurgent bastion of Fallujah, targeting key planning centers of Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group Tawhid and Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings and hostage beheadings.

On Sunday, an Internet statement from Tawhid and Jihad claimed allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, saying it would follow bin Laden’s orders from now on.

Allawi had demanded on Wednesday that Fallujah leaders turn over al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be in the area, or else face military action.

Impossible demands?
The latest attacks began Thursday after Fallujah clerics rejected the “impossible” demand to turn over the terrorist leader, insisting that al-Zarqawi was not in the city. Fallujah fell under control of radical clerics and their armed mujahedeen fighters after the Marines lifted their three-week siege of the city in April.

On Sunday, the crackle of automatic weapons fire and the thud of artillery echoed across Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, as fighting between American troops and insurgents raged on the eastern and southern edges of the city, witnesses said.

Clashes blocked the main road leading to Baghdad, and plumes of smoke rose above the flat-roofed houses in the city’s Askari and Shuhada neighborhoods.

Witnesses said a Humvee was seen burning in the eastern edge of the city, and hospital officials reported three civilians were killed. The U.S. military reported no casualties.

Other developments

  • In London, the British Defense Ministry said the United States has asked Britain to redeploy some troops from southern Iraq.
  • A militant group in Iraq said it had killed two Macedonian hostages it accused of spying for the United States, Arabic television Al Jazeera reported on Monday.
  • to go on a convoy said Monday that the troops felt commanders ignored their plight when they complained about the safety and condition of their vehicles.
  • Iraqi officials said a cash-for-weapons program for Shiite fighters in Baghdad’s Sadr City and other locations was extended another two days until Tuesday.
  • The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division said it could be days before an investigation determines what caused two Army OH-58 helicopters to crash Saturday night in southern Baghdad, killing two soldiers and injuring two others.
  • An Australian journalist was held hostage in Baghdad for 24 hours over the weekend before being released unharmed, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Monday. John Martinkus is the first Australian confirmed as having been held hostage in Iraq.