Iraq Hostage Drama Escalates

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A grisly video released Thursday showed militants killing 11 Iraqi troops held hostage for days, beheading one, then shooting the others execution-style. Another group released a video of a kidnapped Polish woman, demanding Warsaw pull its troops from Iraq.

The latest kidnapping dramas came as the deadline wound down for a Japanese hostage who was shown in a video aired Tuesday. His captors — said to be the al Qaeda-linked militant group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — threatened to behead him in 48 hours unless Japan withdraws its troops — a demand rejected by Tokyo.

CARE International announced Thursday it has closed its operations in Iraq, in an appeal for the release of its kidnapped director there. Margaret Hassan, 59, a citizen of Britain, Ireland and Iraq, was abducted Oct. 19.

In new violence Thursday, a car bomb exploded Thursday in southern Baghdad, killing a U.S. soldier and at least one Iraqi civilian and wounding two other American soldiers, the U.S. military said. Another U.S. soldier was killed when insurgents attacked his patrol south of Balad, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

At least 1,110 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In other developments:

  • A strong explosion rattled downtown Baghdad late Thursday, but the cause of the blast could not be immediately determined.

  • The Iraqi military academy that NATO plans to set up outside Baghdad should be able to train about 1,000 officers a year, the alliance's top commander in Europe said Thursday.

  • It would be "irresponsible" for Italy or other nations to pull troops out of Iraq ahead of national elections there, the Italian foreign minister was quoted as saying Thursday.

  • The U.N. nuclear agency said Thursday it warned the United States about the vulnerability of explosives stored at Iraq's Al-Qaqaa military installation after another facility — Iraq's main nuclear complex — was looted in April 2003.

  • An armed group claimed in a video Thursday to have obtained a large amount of the missing explosives.

  • A survey of deaths in Iraqi households estimates that as many as 100,000 more people may have died throughout the country in the 18 months after the U.S.-led invasion than would be expected based on the death rate before the war.

    There is no official figure for the number of Iraqis killed since the conflict began, but some non-governmental estimates range from 10,000 to 30,000.

    The researchers of The Lancet medical journal report concede that the data they based their projections on were of "limited precision," because the quality of the information depends on the accuracy of the household interviews used for the study. The interviewers were Iraqi, most of them doctors.

    The study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, is being published Thursday on the Web site of The Lancet.

    The killings of the 11 Iraqi National Guardsmen were claimed by a group called the Ansar al-Sunnah Army.

    In the video posted on the group's Web site, each man is seen reading out his name and his unit. One man was then forced to the floor, and a militant pulled his head by the hair and cut off his head. A gunman then shot the others one by one as they knelt on the ground, their arms bound. Some of the men cringed as they heard the shots. The gunman then emptied a full clip into the bodies.

    Insurgents have regularly targeted Iraqi security forces, blaming them for working with Americans. On Saturday, insurgents ambushed and killed 50 unarmed Iraqi soldiers as they headed home from a U.S. training camp northeast of Baghdad.

    A voiceover on Thursday's video — identified as that of the "Emir al-Jamaa," or head of the group — addressed all members of Iraq's security forces. "Repent to God. ... Abandon your weapons and go home and beware of supporting the apostate Crusaders or their followers, the Iraqi government, or else you will only find death," it said.

    A statement on the Web site said: "We will not forget about the blood of our elderly, women and children that are shed daily in Fallujah, Samarra, Ramadi and elsewhere on your hands and the hands of those you work with."

    It said the 11 slain men were "responsible for guarding the Crusader American troops in the Radwaniya area" in Baghdad.

    The Ansar al-Sunnah Army announced Tuesday that it had captured the men on the highway between Baghdad and Hillah, showing their photos on its Web site. It did not say when they were seized. The movement has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks and hostage takings, including the slaying of 12 Nepalese hostages.

    The Pole — identified as Teresa Borcz-Kalifa, a Polish citizen who is married to an Iraqi — was the latest foreign woman to be abducted in Iraq. Her abduction was claimed by a group called the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Fundamentalist Brigades.

    Video aired on Al-Jazeera television showed her sitting in front of two masked gunmen, one of whom was pointing a pistol at her head. Her voice was not audible on the tape, but Al-Jazeera said she urged Polish troops to leave the country and for U.S. and Iraqi authorities to release all female detainees from the Abu Ghraib prison.

    Al-Zarqawi's group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, said it was holding Shosei Koda, a 24-year-old Japanese tourist who appeared in a video Tuesday saying he would be beheaded in 48 hours unless Japan pulled out of Iraq. No specific time for the deadline's end Thursday was given.

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has rejected the demand, said his government was "calling on other countries and those who sympathetic to Japan, and the Iraqi people" to help.

    Meanwhile, the father of a seven-year-old boy held hostage in Iraq says his kidnappers are threatening to behead the child unless they get $70,000.
    • Joel Roberts

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