Kidnapped British aid worker makes new appeal for her life
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A kidnapped British aid worker made another plea for her life in a video aired Wednesday, urging Britain to withdraw troops from the country as some 800 British soldiers headed north toward Baghdad to bolster U.S. forces.
The tape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television showed a distraught Margaret Hassan, the 59-year-old head of CARE International in Iraq, blinking back tears as she spoke.
“Please don’t bring the soldiers to Baghdad. Take them away. Please, on top of that, please release the women prisoners,” she said.
No group has claimed responsibility for her abduction. But followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi made the same demand for the release of female prisoners in the abduction of two Americans and a Briton last month. All three were beheaded.
On Wednesday, Britain began redeploying some 800 troops toward the restive area south of Baghdad area in a move aimed at freeing up U.S. forces for an assault on insurgent areas north and west of the capital.
The soldiers of the Black Watch and the Queen’s Dragoon Guards are expected to assume security responsibility in areas close to the capital so U.S. Marines and soldiers can be shifted to insurgent strongholds including Fallujah, where al-Zarqawi and his terror group are believed to operate.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to agree to the U.S. request for redeployment is a politically sensitive one for the British leader, whose popularity has plummeted because of his support for the Iraq war.
It was the third video released since Hassan – who also holds Iraqi and Irish citizenship – was kidnapped on her way to work in Baghdad a week ago. In the video, Hassan also called on CARE International to close its offices in Iraq. The organization has suspended its activities since her Oct. 19 abduction.
Last Friday, Hassan made a similar heartwrenching plea to Blair to act to save her life, saying she faced the same fate as British engineer Kenneth Bigley, who was beheaded this month.
Hassan’s captors have not identified themselves in any of the videos – no gunmen or banners with slogans have appeared as they often do in other hostage videos.
Britain’s 8,500 troops are based around the southern city of Basra in a relatively peaceful area of Iraq. Sixty-eight British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, compared with more than 1,000 U.S. troops.
British lawmakers have opposed moving the troops into U.S.-controlled areas, saying it would place soldiers in more danger.
On Wednesday, a motorcycle bomber attacked a U.S. convoy in central Iraq, killing one American soldier and wounding another. One person was killed and three were wounded when a bomb exploded near their vehicle Wednesday morning on the road to Baghdad airport, a U.S. official said. The victims’ nationalities were unavailable.
U.S. forces have been increasing raids in Sunni insurgent areas to the north, south and west of the capital in recent months in a bid to stabilize Iraq ahead of national elections in January. The U.S. military said Wednesday that Iraqi forces, backed by Marines, captured 18 insurgents in a sweep through the central Iraqi town of Haswah.
Earlier in the day, Blair repeated his pledge that the Black Watch contingent would be home in Scotland by Christmas. However, he didn’t rule out further British deployments in the area.
“We don’t believe there will be a further requirement for other troops. But I can’t commit myself, I can’t guarantee that because I obviously don’t know the situation that may arise,” Blair told the House of Commons.
“What I do know is that if there is any contingency … we are able to meet it,” he said.
On Wednesday, convoys of large flatbed trucks carried armored British vehicles up a road through Iraq’s southern desert, stopping overnight in Nasiriyah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. British officials have not specified where the troops will be sent, but media reports indicated the Black Watch would be sent to the insurgent hotspot of Iskandariyah, north of Hillah.
A similar hostage drama was playing out in Japan, where Prime Minister Koizumi, a staunch U.S. ally, took a tough stand against militants who threatened to behead a Japanese hostage, refusing to pull out his country’s 500 troops from Iraq.
“The Self-Defense Forces will not withdraw,” Koizumi said Wednesday. “I cannot allow terrorism and cannot bow to terrorism.”
The victim – 24-year-old Shosei Koda – appeared in a video posted on the Internet in which al-Zarqawi’s terror group vowed to kill him within 48 hours unless the demand was met.
The video was being shown repeatedly by national broadcaster NHK, posing a new test for Koizumi. His pro-American stand on Iraq has been unpopular, with many Japanese fearing their troops could be drawn into the fighting.
When five Japanese were taken hostage in April, Koizumi also refused to give in to demands that the troops be withdrawn. Those hostages were freed unharmed.
Tokyo has dispatched 500 troops to the southern city of Samawah on a humanitarian mission to purify water and rebuild schools.