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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 15:30 GMT
Hope and confusion at Abu Ghraib
Crowds gather outside Abu Ghraib prison
Crowds refused to leave the jail in case they miss relatives being freed

Shortly before US forces in Iraq began freeing the first group of Iraqi prisoners from Abu Ghraib jail, the BBC's Chris Hogg visited the scene and found detainees' families calm but desperate to see their loved ones.

In a dusty car park near the front gates of Abu Ghraib prison a crowd had gathered.

A steady stream of battered taxis and minibuses had discharged their contents here throughout the morning.

Families, some with young children, turned up in the hope they would be reunited with their relatives detained inside.

The crowd numbered several hundred but the atmosphere was calm.

Many here had not seen their fathers, their sons or their brothers for months.

Their men folk were picked up by the Americans in raids designed to root out the insurgents.

All insisted their relatives were innocent and that they expected them to be among the first to be released.

Loudspeaker announcement

A man, who gave his name as Salah, said it was inevitable that some here would go home disappointed.

The families were then herded together away from the main gates on to the side of the highway.

Many took the opportunity to complain to the media about the treatment they and their relatives had received at the hands of the American forces.

A woman who had been standing in a queue near the main gates broke down.

She had been trying to apply for a permit to visit her husband inside.

The Americans had told her he was Fedayeen, a member of Saddam Hussein's militia, and he that he was too dangerous. She could not visit him.

A loudspeaker announcement from an Iraqi translator working for the Americans then told the crowd to disperse.

Any prisoners released would be bussed to a nearby town, he said. There was more confusion.

Some left but others stayed, not wanting to risk the possibility that they would miss their loved ones being released.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The risk for the Americans is that there will be deep disappointment"

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