The US military conceded yesterday it did not know if two women who carried out bombings in Baghdad that killed almost 100 people were mentally handicapped, casting doubt on earlier assertions.
Reports that Al-Qaida was using mentally impaired women to unwittingly carry out attacks provoked widespread outrage and Washington said it proved that the militant group would stop at nothing to spread violence in Iraq.
On the day of the blasts on Feb 1, Iraqi officials said reports indicated the women had both suffered from Down's syndrome, a genetic disorder.
The US military echoed those comments, saying Al-Qaida militants had duped two mentally handicapped teenagers to carry bombs into packed pet markets, killing 99 civilians in the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital since last April.
But in a statement yesterday, US military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said he was unable to say for certain whether the women were actually mentally handicapped.
"On Feb 6, I said the initial review by the government of Iraq concluded that the women had Down's syndrome. We do not know today whether or not that was the case," Smith said.
"We do know that both women had been treated for mental health issues. At this time we are not in a position to judge whether or not the women suffered from additional mental challenges."
After the attacks, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said they showed Al-Qaida was "the most brutal and the most bankrupt of movements" which would "do anything".
Smith said at the time they were "proof of the depths that Al-Qaida will go to achieve its objectives in Iraq".
Both US and Iraqi officials suggested that the women might have been able to get past checkpoints unsearched because they had mental disabilities.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Smith said the women's medical records showed they had been treated "extensively" for psychiatric problems.
Ten days ago US forces raided a psychiatric hospital and arrested its director on suspicion he was involved in passing on details of patients to the Sunni Islamist militants.
On Tuesday, US military said the Interior Ministry had a plan to round up beggars and mentally handicapped people from Baghdad's streets to prevent Al-Qaida using them in suicide bomb attacks.
VP approves amnesty law
Iraq's Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi, has approved an amnesty measure that was one of three key pieces of legislation parliament passed just before it adjourned, his office said yesterday.
The measure would provide limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody, although the precise number of people it would affect is not known. To become law, it must be signed by the other two members of the three-member presidency council: President Jalal Talabani and Vice-President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi'ite.
The measure excludes those held in US custody and those imprisoned for a variety of crimes under Iraqi law, including terrorism, kidnapping, rape, antiquities smuggling, adultery and homosexuality.
It also excludes senior figures of the former Baath regime.
Source: China Daily/Agencies