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Military Experts View Rash of Iraq Kidnappings as Negotiation Tactic - 2004-04-13

At least 30 civilians of various nationalities have been kidnapped in Iraq in recent days. Military experts in the Middle East see the taking of hostages as a tactic aimed at gaining negotiating leverage with the United States and its coalition allies.

A rash of kidnappings has occurred in Iraq involving civilians from several countries. In some cases, the kidnappers are demanding that the countries whose nationals they hold withdraw their troops from Iraq or end the siege of Fallujah.

Former Egyptian Army General Mohammad Kadry Said, who now works as a military analyst at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says there is no room for negotiation.

"I am not with yielding against any terrorist demands," he said. "This is a general rule and I believe in it because once you agree, you make one step towards them they will do more and will ask more and they will repeat it again in different places. And this will prove for them that kidnapping is an effective tool."

Hossam Sowaillam, a former director of Egypt's State Center of Armed Forces and a former Egyptian army general, agrees.

"As a military man in war I am not going to give up to these terrorist acts," he said. "I will not give up. I [cannot] yield to them. I have to react very hard against them in order to liquidate all these plans, all these tactics."

However, Mr. Sowaillam concedes negotiations have worked in the past when Israel managed to negotiate the release of soldiers held by the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah in exchange for the release of prisoners.

Several governments, including the Bush administration, have already declared they will not withdraw from Iraq to obtain the release of their citizens.

But Mohammad Kadry Said, the analyst at the al-Ahram Center, also cautions that governments who refuse to negotiate should be aware that they will pay a political price for their stand.

"In my view it causes a problem more than if those people were killed in the battle because it raises a political and human problem, which disturbs not only the other militaries but also the other governments," he said.

Even though refusing to deal with kidnappers has a price, the military analysts say the best defense against it is to stand firm.