Militants claim deal to release UK hostages in Iraq

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The Independent Online

An Iraqi group which kidnapped five Britons says it has agreed a deal with the UK and the US in which it will release one western hostage in return for the handover of 10 militants in allied custody.

A spokesman for Leagues of the Righteous said that the first stage of the release process had been last week's release of a videotape to the British Embassy in Baghdad showing one of the hostages, computer consultant Peter Moore, alive and well.

The deal could lead to the release of all the British hostages, who have been held captive since May 2007.

Mr Moore would be exchanged for three militants captured by the British in southern Iraq in March 2007. They are Qais al-Khazali, who was Muqtada al-Sadr's former spokesman; his brother Laith al-Khazali; and a Lebanese Hezbollah leader, Ali Mousawi Dakdouk, according to The Guardian.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "This is a sensitive case. We are not going to comment on media reports on alleged remarks by people claiming to be hostage-takers. We continue to do everything we can to try and secure the safe release of the hostages and remain extremely concerned for their safety. We call on those holding the hostages to release them immediately and unconditionally."

Britain has insisted it would not make concessions to hostage-takers, but the deal is believed to be the result of two years of undercover negotiations. The British embassy and MI6 have contacted Iraqi politicians who were working to persuade the kidnappers to release their hostages. The kidnapped men are suspected to have been pawns in a power game between militant Shia groups in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon.

Mr Moore was training Iraqis when he was kidnapped along with four security consultants from the Canada-based firm Garda World. They were snatched by gunmen, some wearing Iraqi national police uniforms, who marched them away in handcuffs.