| Death row prisoners in Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad shout from their cells as hundreds of Iraqis stormed the prison following Saddam Hussein’s declaration that most prisoners would be freed. Death row inmates were not released. (AP/PTI)
Baghdad, Oct. 20 (Reuters): Iraq began releasing political prisoners under an unprecedented amnesty issued today by President Saddam Hussein to inmates and exiles to mark his perfect 100 per cent win in an uncontested election last week.
The move to free all political prisoners and most other inmates was seen as part of Saddam’s campaign to rally Iraqis behind his leadership at a time when he faces the prospect of US military action to topple him.
Witnesses said they saw scores of prisoners leaving a prison in Baghdad. Relatives, some carrying large pictures of Saddam, flocked to jails in and around Baghdad to await the release of their loved ones.
“With our blood and souls we redeem you Saddam,” prisoners chanted as they were freed. Overjoyed detainees danced and sang songs praising Saddam. Emotions ran high as many were reunited with their families.
“May God protect Saddam, I'll never do wrong again,” one jubilant prisoner said.
“This is the best day of my life, long live Saddam,” the mother of another prisoner said.
Officials said all pardoned prisoners would be released within 48 hours. They gave no figures but the number of freed prisoners was expected to total several thousand.
“The generous amnesty by his excellency, the President, is to show gratitude and pride in the heroic stand of the people who said yes to him (in the referendum),” interior minister Mahmoud Diyab al-Ahmed told reporters.
Other witnesses said inmates were also being released from Abu Gharib jail on the outskirts of the capital, where most political prisoners are believed to be held.
The amnesty was the first time Saddam has pardoned all political prisoners in his 23-year rule.
Over the years he had ordered the release of small numbers of prisoners or cut the jail terms of others.“All jailed prisoners, detainees and sentenced fugitives for political reasons are granted a complete, comprehensive and final amnesty,” Saddam declared in the decree.
The amnesty also covered most criminal prisoners and those held for evading military service.