Body discovery stokes Iraq hostage tension
Police discovered a decapitated body in an orange jumpsuit and a head in a bag on the banks of the Tigris River, authorities said Thursday, prompting fears that a second Bulgarian hostage has been killed.
Allawi asked Egypt, which also has a citizen threatened with decapitation in Iraq, "to talk to some Arab and Islamic leaders to send forces to protect" a U.N. mission in the country, he told reporters in Cairo. But an official in the Egyptian president's office said Egypt would send troops only if other Arabs do so first. On Wednesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: "Egypt will not send forces in any case."
In new violence Thursday, insurgents fought a running gunbattle with U.S. soldiers on Haifa Street in central Baghdad during a sweep of suspected militants, officials said. Six Iraqis were wounded, Health Ministry official Saad al-Amili said.
Iraqi forces arrested 270 people, including several "non-Iraqi Arabs," and discovered a huge cache of weapons, Interior Ministry official Sabah Khadum said. But U.S. officials said only 48 suspected criminals and insurgents were arrested.
U.S. Marines also announced that they killed 25 insurgents, wounded 17 and captured 25 others during a gunbattle in the western city of Ramadi on Wednesday. Fourteen Marines were injured, none with life-threatening wounds, the Marines said.
Many of the nearly 70 hostages taken hostage in Iraq in recent months are truck drivers who haul cargo for private companies - work that is vital to normalizing Iraq's postwar economy. The truckers are easy targets compared with the thousands of other foreign contractors in Iraq, many of whom work in critical service jobs with the U.S. military or on reconstruction projects.
The decapitated body, found Wednesday night on the banks of the Tigris in the town of Beiji, was clad in an orange prison-style jumpsuit that kidnappers have forced some captives to wear before beheading them. Beside the body, which was still unidentified, was a head in a sack, said Beiji police official Taha Abdullah.
Bulgarian officials were investigating whether the remains were those of a man from that country identified as Ivaylo Kepov, 32, one of two Bulgarians who were kidnapped June 29 near the northern city of Mosul.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said another headless body found in the Tigris on July 14 was identified as the other hostage - Bulgarian truck driver Georgi Lazov, 30.
A group affiliated with Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said it kidnapped the Bulgarians and demanded Iraqi detainees be released in exchange for their lives. The group later sent a tape to Al-Jazeera television that reportedly showed Lazov being killed.
Another group, calling itself The Holders of the Black Banners, announced Wednesday it had abducted two Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian, and said it would behead a captive every 72 hours beginning Saturday night if their trucking company did not agree to stop doing business here and their countries did not agree to withdraw troops and citizens.
A video broadcast Thursday shows a third Kenyan, also working for the Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Co., with the other six hostages.
"KGL sent us by force to Iraq. Now they (the captors) have caught us. They say we are siding with America," one of the Indian captives, identified as Tilak Raj Jarib Das, said in the new video.
In response to the abductions, KGL said it would take "all necessary measures" to save the lives of the hostages, but it stopped short of saying it would stop operating in Iraq.
Kenya, India and Egypt are not members of the 160,000-member, U.S.-led military coalition. But Kenya responded to the militants' demand Thursday by calling on it citizens to leave the country.
"We assure them (the insurgents) that Kenya has no intent of interfering with the lives of the Iraqi people and that we are discouraging our citizens from participating in work that takes them to Iraq," Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mute said.
In Kenya, Muslim leaders and relatives of the hostages appealed to militants to release the Kenyan truck drivers, saying the men were good Muslims who went to Iraq to support their families.
"We plea to those who are holding our brother to release him without any condition because he is a family man who went to make an honest living out there," said Fail Khakis, younger brother of one of the captives, Abraham Khakis. "Our brother bore no ill will to the people of Iraq."
Kenya's decision Thursday made it the latest nation to tell its people to leave Iraq. Egypt told its nationals to stop seeking work here earlier this month after Algarabawi's kidnapping. Bulgaria has refused to withdraw its troops, but told truck drivers to stop making trips into Iraq. The Philippines has also said no more of its contract workers should be sent here.
Iraqi and coalition officials had worried that kidnappings could increase in the wake of a Philippine government decision to pull its troops from Iraq to secure the release of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz, who was being held by militants. Dela Cruz was released Tuesday.