Deal close to free British hostages in Iraq

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The Independent Online

An Arabic Web site says a deal is in the works for the release of five British hostages in Iraq and that one of them could be freed "very soon."

The Saudi-owned site Elaph quotes a leader of the extremist Asaib Ahl al-Haq group as saying a video recently sent to the British embassy showing one of the hostages is part of the deal.

The report quotes a mediator identified only as Abu Ali.

A senior aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acknowledged today that contacts are under way to release the Britons, but denied a deal had been struck.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

A senior Shi'ite lawmaker says the contacts picked up pace two months ago.