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More Than 900 Iraqi POWs Released

More Than 900 Iraqi POWs Released

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coalition forces released more than 900 Iraqi prisoners, beginning the process of sorting through the thousands detained in the month-old war, a U.S. defense official said Friday.

"We stated from the beginning that we don't want to hold anybody any longer than absolutely necessary," said Maj. Ted Wadsworth, a Pentagon spokesman. "The process of sorting people to determine their status has begun."

Those released were determined to be noncombatants, he said, meaning they did not engage in hostile acts during the war and were not part of a military force.

For instance, they may have been civilians caught up in the fighting, Wadsworth said, adding that warring forces have the right and the obligation to take from the battlefield anyone who is a risk to their security or who may be in harm's way.

Taking into account the release announced Friday, coalition forces now hold 6,850 prisoners who were on the battlefield, he said.

Wadsworth said he had no information on where the 925 prisoners were released or other details of their release. A tent city that could hold up to 24,000 prisoners is being constructed in the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr, but not all prisoners have been transferred there.Some remain at other holding facilities and some remain with the coalition units that captured them, he said.

At the prisoner facility under construction, an interrogation facility also is planned, officials have said, adding that not all prisoners have been identified.

Authorities had similar problems obtaining the true identities of terror suspects from the counter-terror war in Afghanistan. Several hundred are still being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.

Among the nearly 8,000 taken prisoner in Iraq, defense officials have said there are a number of high-ranking officers. They hope to get information from them that might lead to the discovery of weapons of mass destruction which the Bush administration says the fallen regime of Saddam Hussein had -- and which was part of the justification for war.

There are no current plans to send prisoners to the facility in Guantanamo, officials have said.

Meantime, determining whether Saddam Hussein is dead or alive has taken a back seat in military strategy to more pressing matters such as the search for weapons and securing Baghdad.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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