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Analysts:  Iraqi Kidnappings Derail Country's Reconstruction Efforts - 2004-07-27


In the past year, Iraqi insurgents have snatched scores of foreigners and Iraqis off the streets. Are the abductions motivated by politics, religion or money, or all of the above? Are they succeeding in disrupting the country's reconstruction? Correspondent Laurie Kassman takes a look at the questions and offers some possible answers.

Masked Iraqi militants in a video show off two Jordanian hostages and demand that foreign companies leave Iraq. A day later the head of the company says he is pulling out of Iraq in order to secure the release of his employees.

Several governments, including Pakistan and Kenya, are negotiating the release of their nationals. Five members of the U.S.-led coalition have withdrawn their troops in the face of unrelenting attacks against foreign and Iraqi forces.

Iraq analyst David Phillips of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations says kidnappings and assassinations are a new phenomena for Iraq. He says the tactic has been imported by Islamic radicals now operating in the country.

"The Saddamists know about torture and tyranny but they don't have a history of suicide bombings or individual assassinations," he said. "There are outside elements that are principally behind this sort of activity. They are being given logistical support and refuge by the former regime elements."

Iraq expert Amatzia Baram says the goal of Islamic radicals like Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi is to prevent Iraq's reconstruction. Mr. Baram says Islamic radicals linked to al-Qaida now operating in Iraq want to stop the spread of what they see as infidel Western influences.

"What they would like to do is make everybody leave Iraq, all the Western institutions, not only the American army and coalition forces, but all the foreign workers," he said. "Anybody who is building Iraq should go away so Iraq would disintegrate. When there is no electricity, when there is no water, when public order is completely chaotic and when Iraq becomes chaos, that for them would be a great victory."

Terrorizing foreign investors, contractors and coalition members is part of the strategy.

Analyst David Phillips says Iraqis who work with foreigners toward the goal of a new democratic Iraq are not exempt either.

"If Iraqis subscribe to that point of view, they are going to be targeted as well," he said. "The idea is to decapitate those force in Iraq that support Iraq's transition toward a more free and open country."

High-profile abductions also grab headlines and keep the militants in the news.

But politics is not the only motivation. Abductions can also generate funds to finance terrorist operations.

And, analyst Amatzia Baram of the Washington-based U.S. Institute for Peace says, do not rule out common criminals either.

"No political motivation whatsoever. These people are just criminals who are kidnapping for ransom," he said. "And they are looking for people who are rich or whom they believe to be rich and kidnapping them and hoping for the best, simply taking advantage of the chaotic situation and making good money on it."

Mr. Baram points out that most of the high-profile abductions are foreigners because, he says even radicals like Abu Musab Zarqawi fears an Iraqi backlash. Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for beheading an American contractor earlier this year.

"The hostages are non-Iraqis because even Zarqawi understands that if he takes an Iraqi hostage, that will immediately infuriate most Iraqis," Mr. Baram said.

Still, Mr. Baram and other analysts predict the terrorists' strategy eventually could backfire.

"It will stop only when and if, and I hope this will happen, public resentment, Iraqi public resentment, public disgust at this kind of operations will reach a crisis point and people will start, within the insurgency itself, will start cooperating with the police, with the Iraqi police and intelligence services to expose those guys who are doing the kidnappings," he said.

Mr. Baram says Iraqis have not yet reached that point.

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