Tripoli: March 23
An Iraqi announcement that the country has agreed to restore full diplomatic relations with Libya, leaves unclear the fate . . .[restrict]of Libyan prisoners held in Iraqi jails, a group of whom is reported to be on the fourth day of a hunger strike in protest at Libya’s failure to get them repatriated.
According to AFP, Iraq’s deputy foreign minister, Labid Abbawi, said Friday that the two countries had agreed to exchanging ambassadors, eight years after Libya broke off relations in protest at the US invasion of Iraq. It is not yet clear if the resolution of the prisoner issue has been part of the deal to restore full diplomatic ties.
On Wednesday, here in Tripoli, government spokesman Nasser Al-Mana told a press conference that agreement had been reached with the Iraqis that the prisoners would be handed over.
“The Iraqi minister of Justice said he was prepared to sign an agreement to hand them over”, said Al-Mana, “We hope that he will sign it soon.”
Al-Mana has been closely involved in the diplomatic negotiations with the Iraqis. On a visit to Baghdad last month, he was told that only the courts could decide what would happen to Libyan prisoners held in the country. It is not clear how many have been detained nor how many have been convicted of a crime. According to the NGO, Libyan Prisoners Abroad, there are around 75. The Iraqis say there are 200.
The majority appears to have been held on the grounds that they were fighting for al-Qaeda-linked organisations against the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or had entered the country illegally. Four had been sentenced to death, though it is unclear if the executions have been carried out. Others were sentenced to periods of up to life imprisonment for terrorist offences.
During Al-Mana’s February trip, a Libyan delegation visited jails in Baghdad and Nassiriya where 32 Libyans are being held. According to Iraqi prison sources, the visits were carried out to check on the condition of the prisoners. The delegation brought news of some of the prisoners’ families and gave each of them a Libyan flag. The Iraqis maintained that the Libyan visitors were satisfied with the human rights of the prisoners and the prisons’ organisation.
There is little firm detail of the hunger strike except that the prisoners involved may have been prompted by a recent deal between Saudi Arabia and Baghdad for the repatriation of Saudi prisoners.
At one point in the negotiations the Iraqis were insisting that, if repatriated, the prisoners should complete their sentences in Libyan jails.
No comment from the Libyan government on the restoration of ties with Iraq was available today.