TV airs video of missing Briton in Iraq

Other News Materials 4 December 2007 20:48 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - Kidnappers of five Britons seized in May in a raid on a government office demanded that Britain pull its forces from Iraq in a video broadcast Tuesday that showed a haggard man sitting under a sign reading "the Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq."

Northeast of Baghdad, a suicide bomber attacked a police station, killing at least eight people, police and hospital officials said.

The purported hostage, bearded and speaking in a clearly British accent, said the video was made Nov. 18. A written statement featured on the video, aired by Al-Arabiya television, accused Britain of plundering the wealth of Iraq and demanded the British troops leave within 10 days. It did not say what would happen if the deadline was not met nor when the countdown begins.

On May 29, about 40 gunmen in police uniforms and driving vehicles used by Iraqi security forces seized the five Britons - four security contractors and a computer consultant - from a Finance Ministry compound. Suspicion has since fallen on Shiite splinter groups that the United States believes are controlled by Iran.

None of the kidnappers appeared on the video. Instead, a written statement said the five Britons had "acknowledged and confessed and detailed the agenda with which they came to steal our wealth under false pretense of being advisers to the Finance Ministry."

The video promised to "follow up with their confessions later."

Britain's Foreign Office condemned the broadcast, saying it "serves only to add to the distress of the men's families and friends."

The brazen abduction came as violence in Iraq was nearing its peak. It has since declined, due largely to the influx of American troops to the capital, the freeze in activities from the feared Mahdi Army Shiite militia, and the U.S. push to enlist local Sunnis to help in the fight against al-Qaida.

The U.S. military said Tuesday it captured or killed 40 al-Qaida fighters in the past month, including a Syrian who died in a Nov. 17 raid. The Syrian, identified as Abu Maysara, had escaped from an Iraqi prison in March, said Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a U.S. military spokesman.

Suicide attacks, bombings and kidnappings continue daily.

Tuesday's suicide bombing occurred as police gathered near the main gate of the station in Jalula, 68 miles northeast of Baghdad, with Kurdish troops who came to the area as part of a security crackdown, police said. Jalula is a religiously mixed city in Diyala province, a former al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold that has seen a dramatic turnaround.

The dead included four Iraqi police, two Kurdish troops and two civilians, police said. Ahmed Khatab, a doctor at the local hospital, confirmed the death toll and said eight of the 30 wounded were in critical condition.

Iraq's government is encouraging some of the 2.2 million Iraqis who have fled since the 2003 U.S. invasion to return home, citing the improved security situation.

Varying figures have been offered for the number of Iraqi refugees returning from across the borders. There is broad agreement that most are returning from Syria, although some 2.2 million people are believed to have scattered across the Middle East and beyond.

But Iraq's migration minister, Abdul-Samad Rahman, said priority would be given to people in "neighboring countries which are not able to provide proper services to those families."

"As for other countries, we are with the U.N. in asking the families to wait until the situation is totally stable in Iraq," Rahman said, naming Sweden in particular, where 9,065 applied for asylum in 2006, and 13,989 sought asylum in the first nine months of 2007.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, a veteran Swedish diplomat, said $11.4 million in assistance from the U.N. would include both food and other aid to the most vulnerable Iraqis returning home - a development welcomed by Rahman, who said the government needed the help.

Using Iraqi government figures, de Mistura said up to 40,000 refugees had returned from abroad in recent months and 10,000 internally displaced Iraqis have returned to their homes. The Iraqi Red Crescent said 25,000 to 28,000 had returned from Syria, citing surveys of its own offices as well as transportation companies and government figures.

Far fewer Iraqis in Jordan are trying to return, according to the Iraqi ambassador there, Saad al-Hayani.

"The more security improves, the more Iraqis will be ready to go back home, especially those who receive good news about their own neighborhoods," he told The Associated Press in Amman, Jordan. " Iraq desperately needs its people to rebuild, especially as most of those here are well educated, including academics, professors, doctors, engineers, and so on."

U.S. officials fear Iraq lacks clear policies for the returnees, including how to settle property disputes, and they fear violence will flare again if the Shiite-led government fails to capitalize on the security gains and make political progress.

Genuine progress has been elusive on major questions such as national reconciliation, sharing the oil wealth and the public reinstatement of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's perceived failure to provide adequate services, such as electricity and clean drinking water, also feeds popular discontent.

Al-Maliki said pervasive corruption, which has hampered efforts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, has carried over from the Saddam Hussein era. He said the government was focused on fighting terrorism in 2007 and promised a new front next year.

"The year 2008 will be, besides the year of rebuilding and public services, a war against the corrupt, ignorant and lazy people who do not properly carry out their duties," he said in a statement.