Hostage Broadcasts Spark Backlash Among Iraqis
By Doug Struck and Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 1, 2004; Page A10
BAGHDAD, June 30 -- The videotape of a bound and blindfolded U.S. Marine held hostage in Iraq has produced a backlash of revulsion among Iraqis.
"This is a terrible thing," said Ali Hashim, 33, a shoe salesman in downtown Baghdad. "Hostage-taking, beheading . . . it's not our tradition. We have a tradition of hospitality. This hurts the image of the Iraqi people."
Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, a Lebanese American, is the latest of a succession of hostages shown on videotapes sent to Arab broadcasters by underground groups opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq. Hassoun was listed as missing, reportedly after leaving his post, but now has been classified by the U.S. military as "captured."
Of the dozens of hostages, at least two -- an American businessman and a South Korean contractor -- have been beheaded. A videotape purporting to show another captured American soldier, Spec. Keith M. Maupin, 20, being shot in the head was received Tuesday by the al-Jazeera satellite television network. Earlier this week three Turkish hostages were released by their captors. At least one Pakistani worker and two other Turks are still believed to be held.
The hostage-takings and the threat of continued violence have further isolated foreigners in Iraq from their work. In the past few days, U.S. authorities have urged Western contractors not to leave the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad. Most of those who do venture out wear bulletproof vests and are accompanied by highly paid armed guards.
Foreigners who did not consider themselves likely targets are nonetheless rethinking whether to remain in the country. In Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, a company that provided cleaning personnel to a U.S. air base near Fallujah, west of Baghdad, said it was abandoning its work in Iraq after two of its workers were kidnapped. "While our boys are in this situation, we cannot think about business anymore," said Cumali Kayacam, manager of the Kayteks company, based in southeastern Turkey. "We've stopped the business." About 15 Turkish nationals working for the company returned home on Tuesday, he said.
After the countless broadcasts of videotapes of hostages, Iraqis expressed sympathy for the danger felt by foreigners. A reporter on the street was greeted with invitations to tea and solicitous questions about his safety.
"We don't approve of taking hostages. If the insurgents really want to do something, they should chase soldiers, not civilians," said Kawakib Peters, 39, who was shopping for shoes.
"These beheadings destroy the image of the Iraqi people and shows them as uncivilized," said Saad Abdel Ali, 54, an electrical supply salesman. "It is being done by outsiders," he said.
"Beheading and hostage-taking are not legitimate in Islamic law," said Riyadh Hussein, the white-turbaned imam of a soaring new mosque in downtown Baghdad. He suggested that the hostage-takings were the result of some unspecified conspiracy. "I have no doubt some of our people gloat over it. But this is being done to destroy the image of the resistance and the image of Muslims in the rest of the world. I feel there are some pockets of extremists in the Islamic world who are motivated and manipulated by Americans or others."
Many kidnappings are carried out for ransom. Hussein recalled that a relative had recently signed a contract to do electrical work in a rural area north of Baghdad, and "just a few hours later he received a threat." The caller "said he would be subject to attacks or kidnappings if he goes ahead with the contract . . . unless he negotiated to pay them a percentage," Hussein recounted. The contract was canceled.
Vick reported from Istanbul. Special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Yesim Borg in Istanbul contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company