| Maliki (Reuters)
Baghdad, June 6 (Reuters): Iraq’s Prime Minister today said he would release 2,500 prisoners in an unexpected move amid talk of a power struggle in his ruling Shia Alliance.
New Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has pledged to heal sectarian wounds and crush a Sunni Arab insurgency, said the prisoner release would free those who had no clear evidence against them or had been mistakenly detained.
Initially, 500 people will be released tomorrow, he said, but did not give details. Many of those in prison are from ousted President Saddam Hussein’s once dominant Sunni community.
“Those who will be released will be people who are not Saddam Hussein loyalists or terrorists or anyone who has Iraqi blood on their hands,” said Maliki, who took office on May 20 at the helm of a self-styled government of national unity.
The announcement comes amid comments from anonymous political sources and government officials that Maliki’s rivals in the Shia Alliance, which dominates the government, have blocked his efforts to name interior and defence ministers and do not believe his government will last long.
Both portfolios have been vacant since the government took charge and some alliance members outside Maliki’s Dawa party believe the Prime Minister’s government cannot last more than six months.
Maliki said today that no nominees were presented to parliament last Sunday as scheduled because there was not a sufficient number of assembly members present for a vote.
“That is why we did not present the candidates but in the next session we will do it,” he said, without specifying when this would be.
He said the prisoners would be released from US-run detention centres and Iraqi custody. A critical UN human rights report last month said that there were 28,700 detainees in Iraq, including 5,000 held by the interior ministry.
“This is a strong move which will encourage others,” he said, in a clear reference to the Sunni minority, which forms the backbone of the rebellion against his US-backed government. “Those who committed killings or bombings will not be released and will be banned from being released.”
The urgency in appointing ministers who can start tackling relentless violence was underscored by the discovery of nine severed heads in a volatile area north of Baghdad, the second such find in the last few days in the area.