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Hostage-Taking, Killings Continue to Plague Iraq - 2004-09-20

Two American and one British hostage in Iraq faced a deadline for their execution Monday, as another radical group threatened to kill 18 Iraqi national guardsmen it apparently seized late last week. The increase in kidnappings and other violence is a matter of rising concern for Iraq's interim government, as it tries to organize elections for January.

Militant groups are threatening to kill the hostages unless a radical Shi'ite leader and all women prisoners are released by the Iraqi government and coalition forces.

Militant groups have kidnapped more than 100 foreigners in Iraq since April to try to press similar demands. Analysts say often the abductions are carried out by criminal gangs. The experts say the hostages then are sold to militant organizations, which then issue demands to foreign governments or companies working in Iraq.

Some experts blame Iraq's increasing lack of security on the failure of the interim administration to convince Iraqis that it can bring them a more stable future. Sadoun al-Dulame, the Director of the independent Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, says those fears leave Iraqis open to manipulation by other groups.

"This is no clear agenda done for the future of Iraq. That's why. So every group wants to establish the Iraq according to its interests. And of course some groups are supported, backed by regional interests - and they become local proxies, no more," he said.

Recent kidnappings have included two Italian women who worked for a private aid group and two French journalists. Ten Turkish truck drivers were abducted on Sunday.

And the militant groups have made clear that their threats are real and that they apply to Iraqis as well as foreigners. The execution of three Iraqi Kurds was posted on a Web site Sunday. Their abductors accused them of cooperating with U.S. forces in Iraq.