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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 December 2007, 14:36 GMT
Iraq government backs amnesty law
Detainees in Iraq
Thousands of Iraqis in custody have yet to be charged
Iraq's government has backed a draft law that enables the release of thousands of suspected insurgents held captive by US and Iraqi forces.

The amnesty law is thought to specify offences for which prisoners who have been held without charge can be freed.

Parliament must debate the law on Sunday before it is ratified.

The number of prisoners held by US and Iraqi forces, estimated at 50,000, has risen sharply after the recent "surge" strategy, boosting military operations.

Vital step

The strategy of injecting extra US troops to work alongside local tribal militias - many of them former insurgents - has been credited with a drop in violence this year.

The US military surge has also seen a steep rise in the number of prisoners, with entire neighbourhoods sometimes being taken into custody.

The general pardon law has taken months to prepare and is regarded as a vital step towards reconciling Sunni and Shia groups.

Sunni political leaders in particular have been calling for the release of the many suspected insurgents from their community being held in custody.

The law is believed to provide for the release of most prisoners who have been held without charge.

Some 24,000 people are being held in Iraqi jails, while US-run prisons in Iraq are believed hold 26,000 captives.

The US military says it hopes to release most of its detainees by the end of 2008.

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