Cabinet Passes Iraqi Pardon Bill

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi Cabinet approved a draft law Wednesday that will offer a general pardon to thousands of prisoners in U.S. military and Iraqi custody, a government spokesman said.

"The Cabinet has passed the general pardon law, which will define who is eligible to be freed from all prisons, both Iraqi and American," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

The law still needs to be approved by the parliament.

Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, said earlier this month that the draft law was aimed at boosting reconciliation between majority Shiite and Sunni Arab Muslims, locked in a cycle of violence.

The Iraqi authorities now hold 24,000 detainees and U.S. forces are holding 26,000. Critics say only a small proportion of those held are ever prosecuted.

Sunni Arab leaders have repeatedly called for the release of detainees in U.S. custody, most of whom are Sunni Arabs held as suspected insurgents.

The U.S. military has said it intends to free most of its detainees by the end of next year.

n The decomposed bodies of 17 men have been found in Iraq's restive Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the Iraqi army said Wednesday.

The bodies were found in a town near the provincial capital of Baquba, 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, in the past two days. All had gunshot wounds to the head.