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'Dr. Germ,' Saddam Aides Freed

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.

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."

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.

In other recent developments:
  • Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a lawyer for Saddam Hussein, says the deposed Iraqi leader only spent a short time in the spider hole near Tikrit when he was captured in December 2003, and a motorcycle was supposed to be waiting for him to help him get away. "Saddam knew the person who owned the house wasn't there. He knew he had been betrayed," Clark said. "Saddam thinks he was gassed in the tunnel," the Sun also quoted Clark as saying.
  • The first results of Thursday's parliamentary election were released, with officials saying the Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, got about 1,403,901, or 58 percent of the votes, from 89 percent of ballot boxes counted in Baghdad province. 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.
  • A U.S. Marine was killed in fighting in central Iraq, the military said Monday. The Marine from the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force was killed on Sunday by small arms fire in the town of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
  • In violence Monday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a children's hospital in western Baghdad, killing at least two 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.
  • Some Europeans reacted Monday to President Bush's weekend defense of his Iraq policy with nascent hope that his seemingly humbler tone could signal a break from the hawks in his administration. "France has noticed a light, or gradual, evolution in the American position," said Denis Simonneau, a spokesman at the French Foreign Ministry.
  • Across Iraq Monday, 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. The fuel prices were raised Sunday, some as much as nine times to curb a growing black market, Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

    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.

    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.

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