Negotiators have struck a deal to release two CBS News journalists missing, believed kidnapped, in Iraq and they could be free in hours, a leading Shi'ite militia group and the U.S. military said on Wednesday.
"We held talks with the kidnappers. They will be released," said Hareth al-Athari, the head of the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Basra office, without giving details of when the pair would be freed.
"We are hopeful they will be released in the coming days if not hours," U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters.
U.S. network CBS said on Monday two of their journalists had gone missing in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Police in Basra said the men, a British journalist and an interpreter, were seized from a city centre hotel.
Basra, Iraq's second largest city, was put under British control after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion until security responsibility was handed over to Iraqi authorities in December. Britain retains a military base at the airport.
"We have a dispute with the British forces in Basra but that doesn't mean we have a dispute with the British people," Athari told reporters.
Basra has been at the centre of tensions between Sadr's powerful Mehdi Army militia and supporters of Shi'ite rival, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, as both seek to gain control of the mainly Shi'ite south and its oil wealth. more