Russia to evacuate citizens from Iraq
Russia said Wednesday that it will begin evacuating people from Iraq this week in light of the deteriorating security situation, while four unidentified bodies were found amid a wave of kidnappings of at least 22 foreigners.
Initial reports said the four bodies were mutilated, but those reports were not confirmed, the official said.
NBC News reported that the four bodies were in a shallow grave between Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, scene of the convoy attack, and that U.S. officials were led to the grave by an Iraqi.
Two U.S. soldiers and seven employees of Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root have been missing since their convoy was attacked Friday on the main highway west of Baghdad, between the district of Abu Ghraib and the central city of Fallujah.
The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations planned to send seven flights from Moscow to Baghdad and Kuwait to evacuate specialists from Russia and former Soviet republics who have been working in Iraq, spokesman Viktor Beltsov said Wednesday.
The move comes after three Russian and five Ukrainian employees of a Russian energy company were kidnapped by masked gunmen who broke into their Baghdad house on Monday. The Interenergoservis employees were released unharmed the next day.
"Preliminary plans are to evacuate 553 Russian citizens and 263 citizens from countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States who are working on Russian contracts at facilities in Iraq," Beltsov said. The first flight was scheduled for Thursday morning.
The CIS is a loose organization of 12 former Soviet republics that includes Ukraine.
The most recent reported abductions were of four Italian security guards working for a U.S.-based company and a French TV journalist.
Also among the captives are three Japanese whose kidnappers threatened to burn them alive if Tokyo didn't withdraw its troops.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, ruled out a withdrawal of troops based in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
"The peace mission of the Italian soldiers in Iraq, in line with the international commitments that have been taken on, is absolutely not in question," he said.
A U.S. spokesman said 40 foreigners from 12 countries were currently held by kidnappers - though an Associated Press count put the number at 22.
One of the seven missing employees - Thomas Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver from Macon, Miss. - is known to have been abducted. His captors have threatened to kill and mutilate him unless U.S. troops ended their assault on Fallujah. The deadline passed Sunday with no word on his fate. Halliburton would not give the nationalities of the six others.
The French government demanded the immediate release of Alexandre Jordanov, a journalist for Capa Television in Paris, who was seized Sunday while videotaping an attack on an American military convoy.
Franck Duprat, a television editor who worked with Jordanov on an investigative television show called "The Real News," said he disappeared on the road south of Baghdad.
Three Czech journalists feared kidnapped Sunday are fine and could be released as early as Wednesday, Iraqi Minister of Culture Mofeed al-Jazaeri told Czech television from Baghdad.
The three reporters are believed to have been kidnapped while headed toward Jordan on a road that goes through Abu Ghraib. They were identified as Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal and cameraman Petr Klima and Czech Radio reporter Vit Pohanka.