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ARLINGTON, Va. — Members of Saddam Hussein’s regime who are captured or surrender in Iraq will not be taken to U.S. detention facility at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“At the moment … my preference is not to” send the Iraqis to Guantanamo, Rumsfeld told reporters during a Friday briefing at the Pentagon.

As of Friday, the U.S. military had 12 of the 55 Iraqi officials featured on the Pentagon’s “most wanted” deck of playing cards, “as well as a number of others not on the original list,” Rumsfeld said.

On Thursday, Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s former deputy prime minister, surrendered. Perhaps the most familiar face of the regime to the outside world besides Saddam himself, Aziz frequently acted as Iraq’s principal spokesman between the Gulf war and the most recent war.

Aziz surrendered in Baghdad on Thursday, becoming the highest-ranking Baath Party government official to give himself up.

Overall, “we have acquired, scooped up, detained, a large number [of Iraqis], somewhere between 7,000 and 7,500,” Rumsfeld said. The Iraqis are being held in two or three large detention facilities inside Iraq.

“We’re keeping the hard cases separate for the most part,” Rumsfeld said. About 1,000 Iraqis have been released after U.S. military personnel have questioned them and determined that they are not a threat or do not hold any intelligence value, he said.

Rumsfeld said that the reason none of the Iraqis are destined to join the 660 detainees from 42 countries now at Guantanamo is because the island’s current detainees are all suspected of having links to the international al-Qaida terrorist network.

“We’re keeping them down there to keep them off the street,” he said.

However, “the people we’ve got [detained] in Iraq are Iraqis,” and it makes sense to keep them in that country while U.S. officials decide how to deal with them, Rumsfeld said.

He added that he has no intention of “wasting taxpayers’ dollars” by shipping them off to Cuba, when most would eventually have to be repatriated to Iraq anyway.

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