On Wednesday afternoon, the US embassy in Iraq denied the release of any female prisoners.

"The two women are in legal and physical custody of the multinational forces in Iraq and neither will be released imminently," a spokesman for the US embassy said.

 

The US embassy said that while neither woman would be released in the immediate future, their cases were under review.

 

"Their legal status is like that of the other 82 high-value detainees and is under constant review," the spokesman said.

Iraqi judge orders release

Never the less, Iraq's interim national security adviser Qasim Dawud said Iraqi judges have ordered the conditional release of three prisoners in US custody, including one of two women held by US forces.

Dawud told a news conference that the release would be conditional and would not happen for a few days. 

"Iraqi judges decided to release them because they didn't have any evidence. The judges decided on a conditional release. It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he said.

No coincidence

Although the interim Iraqi Justice Minister Malik Duhan al-Hasan is quoted by a British newspaper as saying that the release "has nothing to do with the kidnapping", the family of Kenneth Bigley says "it's no coincidence".

"I think this is the language of diplomacy", Paul Bigley, the brother of Kenneth, told Aljazeera.net. "They had to say that to save face. I think the news is directly to do with the fact that we are lobbying so hard for Ken's release."

The 67-year-old civil engineer was captured in Iraq on Friday along with two Americans, who have since been beheaded after the captors' demands for female prisoners to be released in Iraq were not met.

Bigley made an impassioned plea to officials on Tuesday to "offer an olive branch" and heed to the captors' demands.

"All Mr [Iyad] Allawi needs to do, if he has any feelings, is to pick up the telephone ... and order the release of maybe five or 10 female prisoners immediately," Bigley said.

Hearing

The Guardian newspaper quoted the interim Iraqi Justice Minister as saying his government would later on Wednesday release Rihab Taha, a biological weapons scientist. 

Huda Amash is one of the
scientists who could be freed

A hearing would be held to determine whether to release the second woman, Huda Amash, another weapons scientist, dubbed Chemical Sally.

"It has nothing to do with the kidnapping. They have all been cooperative and we have decided to release them on bail," al-Hasan is reported as saying.

With time possibly running out for the British captive, his brother, however, remains cautiously optimistic and says he will continue to lobby on their behalf "because I don't like what is going on in Iraq and Palestine".

"I have a glimmer of hope," he added.

'Unfounded' attack

On Tuesday, Bigley told Aljazeera.net: "The whole attack on Iraq was absolutely ridiculous, unfounded and stupid. And I will not be told to shut up, not about an important situation like this."

The three foreigners were
captured from their home

His comments were in reaction to "instructions" from the British Foreign Office to resist commenting on the capture.

"I hope the captors read my message and realise that I have been working non-stop to try and reach the goals which they are demanding," he said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met the captive's family on Tuesday. A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told Aljazeera.net he was not in a position to go into the details of the meeting, except to say the release of Iraqi prisoners was not the responsibility of the British government. 

However on Wednesday the US embassy in Baghdad said: "The two women are in legal and physical custody of the multinational forces in Iraq and neither will be released imminently."