U.S. Releases 5 Jailed Iraqi Women

The U.S. military handed over five Iraqi women to their families on Thursday, a demand sought by militants holding a kidnapped American journalist. U.S. officials said the release was routine and not related to the kidnapping.

The women were freed from U.S. custody Thursday afternoon and delivered to the home of a senior Sunni Arab politician in Baghdad, where they were returned to their families, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene. They were later driven away in taxis.

Armed men who abducted Jill Carroll on Jan. 7 in Baghdad have threatened to kill the freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor unless all Iraqi women prisoners were freed. A deadline passed late Friday with no word on her fate, but a top Iraqi police officer said Thursday that he believed Carroll will be freed, adding the release of the five Iraqi women could help.

"Any announcement may not benefit the case because of its sensitivity, but we can say, God willing, that she will be released," Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal, head of intelligence at the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told The Associated Press.

"The release of the five Iraqi women might assist in releasing Carroll," Kamal said.

But with no contact from Carroll's abductors, it's impossible to know whether they will focus on the five who were released, or the fact that several remain in U.S. custody, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.

The U.S. military announced earlier that the women would be freed as part of a group of about 420 Iraqis to be released Thursday and Friday from military custody after reviews of their cases determined there was no reason to keep holding them.

The military had confirmed it was holding nine Iraqi women. The fate of the remaining four was not immediately clear. Another two women were detained in northern Iraq on Wednesday, the military said later Thursday.

Meanwhile, Kamal said intensive efforts are underway to release Carroll. Her parents continue to appeal to her captors via the American media.

"She is not your enemy," father Jim Carroll said in a television interview Sunday. "You already know my daughter is honest, sincere, and of good heart. Her respect for the Iraqi people is evident in her words that she has been reporting. Jill started to tell your story, so, please, let her finish it."

More than 250 foreigners have been taken hostage, either by insurgents or gangs, since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam. At least 39 have been killed.