Washington, 25 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says some captured Iraqi officials are providing useful information to coalition forces. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing today that U.S. coalition forces are holding between 7,000 and 7,500 people in Iraq. He said most are Iraqis, but some are Syrians and other nationalities.
"We have acquired, scooped up, have custody of a large number of people, Iraqi people, even some non-Iraqis," Rumsfeld said. "We've got a number of Syrians and other nationals that were in there doing things they shouldn't have been doing. The number is somewhere between 7,000 and 7,500, I am going to guess. They are in various locations. I think we are probably down to one or two enemy prisoner of war camps."
Rumsfeld said ordinary soldiers are being released by coalition forces. Among those being held, the secretary said, are 12 of the 55 most-wanted officials.
Rumsfeld expressed satisfaction that Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein, was among those in custody. Aziz surrendered to U.S. forces yesterday.
Published reports say that coalition forces in Iraq have also captured Saddam's former top spy near the border with Syria. He is identified as Farud Hijazi, Iraq's former ambassador to Tunisia.
Hijazi was director of external operations for the Iraqi intelligence in the mid-1990s. Some U.S. officials believe Hijazi -- who is not on the U.S. list of 55 "most-wanted" Iraqi officials -- met with suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden in Kandahar five years ago.