October 19, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents abducted the local director of CARE International from her car in Baghdad on Tuesday, targeting a charity worker who has championed ordinary Iraqis for decades.
In new violence, mortar attacks killed an American contractor and at least four Iraqi National Guard members and wounded 80 Iraqis, the U.S. military said.
Margaret Hassan, a British-born woman with Iraqi citizenship, was kidnapped while being driven to work about 7:30 a.m. in a western neighborhood of the capital, a CARE employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said. The employee said CARE did not employ armed guards.
Hours later, Al-Jazeera television aired a brief video of Hassan in captivity. She sat on a couch in a room, speaking - though there was no audio - and no gunmen were visible in the footage. Al-Jazeera said an "armed Iraqi group" claimed responsibility for the kidnapping but did not say whether any demands were made.
The abduction highlighted that no one is immune from the wave of kidnappings in the Iraqi capital. Hassan has lived in Iraq for 30 years, helping supply medicines and other humanitarian aid and speaking out about Iraqis' suffering under international sactions during the 1990s.
Violence in Iraq has pushed many humanitarian groups to leave the country or withdraw foreign workers - particularly after deadly bombings against the United Nations and international Red Cross last year.
Kidnappings have become a prime strategy for insurgents aiming to drive out U.S. allies in Iraq and spread chaos. Two Italian aid workers were snatched from their Baghdad office last month and later released. More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq, and at least 30 captives have been killed.
South of Baghdad, Iraqi security forces and U.S. Marines carried out raids this week that arrested nearly 130 suspected insurgents, the U.S. military said Tuesday. The sweep included areas where British media say British forces might be redeployed at the request of the U.S. command to free up American forces to move against insurgent strongholds.
The raids took place Sunday and Monday in and around the cities of Iskandariyah, Yusufiyah and Latifiyah. Four of those detained Monday were suspected in an attack on the joint forces earlier the same day, the military said.
U.S. officials have admitted in the past that faulty intelligence had led to the arrest of thousands of Iraqis who had no ties to the insurgency. However, officials claim their intelligence is better now that Iraqi security forces are playing important roles in such operations.
North of the capital, a barrage of six mortars hit the headquarters of the Iraqi National Guard early Tuesday just as troops were lining up in formation, said international officials and National Guard officers under condition of anonymity.
Four guardsmen were killed and 80 wounded, the U.S. military said, citing the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Iraqi officers on the scene said five Guardsmen had been killed and more than 100 injured, some severely.
The Iraqi National Guard has been a frequent target of insurgents trying to undermine U.S.-led security efforts ahead of January national elections.
Meanwhile, a separate mortar and rocket attack on a U.S. military base in central Baghdad on Tuesday killed an American working for KBR, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Halliburton's engineering and construction subsidiary, said Megan Mason, spokeswoman for the company in Baghdad.
A U.S. soldier was also wounded in the 5 a.m. attack, the military said. Halliburton and its subcontractors have lost 54 personnel in Kuwait and Iraq, Mason said.
In northern Iraq, saboteurs blasted an oil pipeline Monday night, reducing the flow to an export terminal by 8 percent, police and an oil official said. Firefighters battled a blaze in the pipeline, 8 miles outside the town of Beiji, until Tuesday morning.
The pipeline usually pumps 350,000 to 400,000 barrels a day to Ceyhan, the terminal on southern Turkey's Mediterranean coast. The blast wrecked that section of the pipeline, which would have to be replaced, an official with the Northern Oil company said.
He added the flow to the export terminal in Turkey would fall by 8 percent. "Exports have not been halted completely because another line is operational," the official said.
Iraq's oil industry has been hit by repeated insurgent attacks, hampering attempts to rebuild a sector that provides desperately needed money for Iraq's reconstruction efforts.
There was no immediate word on who abducted Hassan.
"As of now we are unaware of the motives," CARE International, United Kingdom said in a statement released in London and read to The Associated Press in Baghdad. "As far as we know, Margaret is unharmed."
CARE International has been active in Iraq since 1991 following the Gulf War, with programs focusing on rebuilding and maintaining water and sanitation systems, hospitals and clinics, according to the group's Web site.
Hassan's abduction is a potential new political snarl for Britain, on the heels of the kidnapping and beheading of 62-year-old British engineer Ken Bigley. It comes as Britons are debating the merits of the U.S. request to redeploy some British troops - a move that could put them in greater danger.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that British troops would only be redeployed to the more volatile, U.S.-controlled sector of Iraq if it was militarily justified.
"No decision will be taken to redeploy British troops unless it is clear militarily that that should and can happen," he added. "The only elections that matter in this regard are the Iraqi elections that happen next January."
Moving a contingent of British troops further north would be aimed at freeing up American forces to launch a new effort against insurgents controlling a number of regions in the Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad - the city of Fallujah in particular, before the January vote.