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Jordanians, Others Account for More Than 200 POWs Held by U.S. in Iraq

By Douglas Jehn

New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Among prisoners held by the United States in Iraq, more than 200 are Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and other foreigners who could become subject to military tribunals, U.S. military officials said on Thursday.

The foreigners have been accused of unlawfully battling U.S. forces in Iraq, sometimes in close league with the paramilitary forces known as fedayeen. They are among several hundred prisoners in Iraq now categorized by the United States as unlawful combatants rather than prisoners of war, the officials said.

The disclosure added some detail to what remains a murky picture of the role played by foreigners and other militia fighters in opposing U.S. forces. U.S. military commanders have described repeated encounters with foreign fighters in Iraq, including a busload detained in early April along with large amounts of cash, and they have suggested that large numbers of those fighters may have been killed.

But in recent days, U.S. commanders have suggested that the foreigners may have been more than disorganized volunteers. In a briefing for reporters on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of the Army’s V Corps, described the foreigners as having been “seeded within and cooperating with the Saddam Fedayeen, which were at least fanatical, if not suicidal.”

At a videoconference briefing from Iraq for reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, U.S. officers said they were well along the way to sorting through the thousands of prisoners detained by U.S. forces. They said they had already released more than 7,000 of the more than 9,000 who had been held at a compound in Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq.

Among those who have been released, 3,781 were prisoners of war, most of them low-ranking, the U.S. officers said. About the same number were released after they were determined to be civilians or other noncombatants, they said.

Of the 2,000 prisoners still being held by the United States in Umm Qasr, about 500 have been assigned high priority by the U.S. military and are being held for further interrogation and possible prosecution.

Besides those determined to have come from Syria, Jordan and Iraq, others came from the Persian Gulf states, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said on Thursday. But one officer said the representation of foreign fighters was “a lot more localized,” primarily from the countries bordering Iraq, than was the case in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida and the Taliban drew Muslim volunteers from all over the world.