By Michel Cousins.
Tripoli, 8 September.
Eight Libyans being held in Iraq are expected to return to Libya in the next 48 hours, . . .[restrict]the Libya Herald has been told by the Minister of Justice, Ali Ashour Ehmida.
A team lead by the Deputy Justice Minister, Khalifa Ashur, is in Baghdad to take custody of the eight and bring them back. According to the Justice Minister, the four have already been handed over to his deputy. There were problems over documentation with the other four but that was expected to be resolved quickly.
The eight have not been named but are believed to be the same eight who at the end of June were ordered to be released by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. According to the Iraqi official in charge of relations with Libya, Hazem Jabouri, they had been jailed for fighting against Iraqi and coalition forces.
Taha Shakshuki of the Libyan Group for Demanding Libyan Prisoners Abroad says that the eight were all serving seven-year sentences, the maximum for taking up arms against Iraqi forces. Almost all, he adds, are from the east of the country, from Derna, Tobruk and Ajdabiya.
On Wednesday government spokesman Nasser Al-Manaa announced that a team would be going to Iraq to see about bringing Libyan prisoners home. There had been a “breakthrough” in the case, he said. As a result, a new era in Libyan-Iraqi relations was anticipated.
Iraqi reports have in the past claimed there were as many as 200 Libyans held in Iraq on various offences. Some were said to be members of Al-Qaeda. Libyan officials, however, say there are far fewer. Last month, Manaa said there were just 18 Libyan prisoners in Iraq although the number of Libyans who had gone missing there was higher — around 80, he said. Their whereabouts, however, were unknown.
Shahshuki puts the number of Libyans in Iraqi jails at 22. All had been been convicted. They include the eight about to be released and four who have been sentenced to death. The rest have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Those on death row include one who was convicted of planting a bomb in a market which killed 11 Shiites, Shakshuki said.
It appears those on death row will not be released. Shakshuki says that the Libyan government is not seeking the release of those convicted of crimes such as murder.
Two Libyans are reported to have been executed already in Iraq.
The issue of Libyans held in Iraqi jails has been on-going for several months. In February, Manaa flew to Baghdad in vain to try and negotiate their release. At the time, he was told by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki that that the matter had to remain in the hands of the Iraqi courts. They had “the sole right to consider this matter”. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari likewise said that while Iraq wanted to solve the issue of Libyan prisoners in the country, it had to be done “on a legal and judicial basis”.