US coalition troops released Thursday three women recently detained during searches for suspected anti-coalition attackers that prompted massive popular protests, a correspondent said.
The women, seized three days ago, were allowed to return home after a delegation of 10 local clerics and tribal chiefs went earlier Thursday to the US base in Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad, to negotiate their release.
"They were released after we demonstrated and went this morning to meet with the US base commander to tell him of the need to release the three women," tribal chief Sheikh Kharbeet Jassem Kharbeet said.
"They then promised to release the women in the afternoon," said Kharbeet, who was part of the delegation.
He said the delegation "asked the US forces not to repeat any such detentions, especially of women, because such actions are provocative for the Iraqi people."
Kharbeet said the base commander "said the demonstrations that we held and the media coverage of the incident had embarrassed them. He apologised for detaining the women and promised not to repeat it in the future."
Residents said that the women were the wife, sister and daughter of a man identified as Tamer Mubarak, who is accused of "resistance activities."
Earlier reports said the women were arrested three days ago instead of their husbands when US soldiers, looking for men accused of anti-US attacks, came into their homes in nearby Khaldiyah but failed to find them.
Habbaniyah and Khaldiyah are in the so-called Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of ousted president Saddam Hussein which has witnessed most anti-coalition attacks since the April 9 fall of the former leader.
Thousands of Iraqis had demonstrated early Thursday near the US base in Habbaniyah to demand the women's release.
The demonstrators came from Khaldiyah, led by a convoy of about 40 motorcycles carrying Iraqi flags and banners reading: "Shame on the interim Governing Council's silence over the arrest of women" and "Shame and death to all spies".
They chanted: "Bush, Bush, you coward release the women" and "Jews, Jews, Mohammed's army will return."
Some of the young demonstrators tied white bandanas around their foreheads that read "Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)" and "There is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet".
US helicopters hovered over the scene of the demonstration and a number of soldiers and military vehicles were guarding the gate of the base located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of Baghdad, according to a correspondent.
A preacher at a mosque in Khaldiyah said US military authorities told them that "we will negotiate with you over this matter only if you come in without reporters and photographers.
"So please leave us in peace and let us negotiate with the Americans," he said, saying that his men "were not here to kick out the Americans or fight them."
Sheikh Ali Saleh, another Khaldiyah resident, said "it is unacceptable and impossible to throw innocent women in prison. We are not in the United States, but in Iraq, a country that has traditions that the occupying force must respect."
A smaller demonstration, numbering a hundred or so, took place in Khaldiyah on Wednesday demanding the release of the women.