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U.S. Military Frees Reuters Photographer In Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- The U.S. military freed a Reuters photographer in Iraq today after holding him for almost a year and a half without charge.

Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, an Iraqi who has contributed photographs and video to Reuters on a freelance basis, was detained in a raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces on his home in Mahmudiya town, south of Baghdad, in September 2008.

"How can I describe my feelings? This is like being born again," Jassam told Reuters by telephone as he was greeted emotionally by his family.

Jassam was one of several Iraqi journalists working for foreign news organizations who have been detained by the U.S. military, often for months at a time, since the 2003 U.S. invasion. None has ever been charged, triggering criticism from international journalism rights groups.

"I am very pleased his long incarceration without charge is finally over," said editor in chief David Schlesinger. "I wish the process to release a man who had no specific accusations against him had been swifter."

The U.S. military asserted that Jassam was a "security threat" but it has given no other public explanation for his arrest or long detention. U.S. military officials did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on his release.

The evidence against Jassam was classified, but the accusations had to do with "activities with insurgents," the U.S. military said last year.

The term "insurgents" in Iraq generally refers to Sunni Islamist groups, like Al-Qaeda. Jassam is a Shi'ite Muslim.

Under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that gave Iraq back its sovereignty this year, the U.S. military has already handed over thousands of Iraqis it had detained.

It still holds almost 6,000 detainees. Those too must eventually be handed to Iraq authorities. If they face Iraqi criminal charges they will be tried; otherwise they will be freed.

The Iraqi Central Criminal Court ruled last year that there was no case against Jassam.

A month before arresting Jassam, U.S. forces detained Reuters cameraman Ali Mashhadani and held him for three weeks without charge, the third time he was detained. Mashhadani was held for five months in 2005.