PARIS, AUG. 29 -- The French government, displaying growing anger over further delay in the release of its nationals held captive in Iraq, has imposed tight restrictions on the movements of 26 Iraqi citizens ostensibly for "security reasons."
Interior Ministry officials said those Iraqis placed under virtual house arrest, or "permanent surveillance," here were selected because they had become acquainted with vital information during courses they were taking here on military tactics and the operation of advanced equipment sold earlier to Baghdad by French industrial concerns.
Twelve Iraqi military officers who were taking courses were moved and confined to a hotel in Rochefort. Four of them tried to leave for Iraq last week but were caught by police at Orly airport south of Paris. Eight other Iraqis were sequestered at a hotel in Brest, where they were learning how to operate surveillance radars sold last year by the French electronics manufacturer Thomson-CSF.
The restrictions came as the Foreign Ministry reported that French hostages are still being moved from their hotels to "unknown destinations" -- presumably military and other strategic sites -- where they will serve as human deterrents to a Western military attack. More than 40 of the 525 French nationals in Iraq and Kuwait have dropped out of sight.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Bernard said the Iraqis were continuing to sequester French nationals at key installations despite Baghdad's promise last week that some French hostages would be released as a sign of good faith. He also noted that more than 200 French women and children remain in Iraq and Kuwait after Tuesday's announcement by President Saddam Hussein that all foreign women and children will be allowed to depart if they wish.
The latest tensions between Paris and Baghdad reflected the bitter disenchantment now felt on both sides after nearly a decade of close military and commercial bonds. Successive French governments supported policies that furnished Iraq with advanced weaponry because they believed that Saddam's secular regime was the only bulwark against the revolutionary tide of Islamic fundamentalism sweeping from Iran.
In the first interview he has given to a Western reporter since the crisis broke a month ago, Saddam complained to the French newscaster Patrick Poivre d'Arvor that he was "profoundly deceived" by the attitude of the once-friendly French government in dispatching warships and troops to the gulf to enforce United Nations sanctions. Excerpts from the two-hour interview, conducted Tuesday morning at Baghdad's Palace of Congress, were shown on French television news tonight.
"We can understand why bad governments would line up behind the United States and Britain," Saddam said as he paced the marble floor of the immense hall. "But we don't understand the French position because we have defended your interests for so long."