BONN, NOV. 5 -- Willy Brandt, former chancellor of West Germany, flew to Baghdad today with $4 million worth of baby food and medicine on a hostage rescue mission that has embarrassed the German government and drawn objections from European officials worried about the growing number of special envoys visiting Baghdad these days.
The Brandt mission comes after similar private trips by former British prime minister Edward Heath and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, each of whom traveled to Iraq trying to achieve what official diplomacy has not. Former Japanese prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, currently in Iraq, held a second day of talks with the Iraqi parliament speaker on releasing about 350 hostages. Meanwhile, other former prime ministers, including David Lange of New Zealand and Anker Jorgensen of Denmark, are also planning visits.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appears to be inviting such trips by foreign dignitaries as well as private groups, both to win leverage in the battle of nerves in the Persian Gulf crisis and to split the international coalition arrayed against Iraq. Iraqi officials in Baghdad have recently expressed satisfaction over the trips by unofficial delegations, telling correspondents that the visits prove the anti-war camp in the West is growing.
Worried that Saddam might succeed in weakening political support for the U.S.-led force in the Persian Gulf, foreign ministers of the 12 European Community nations tonight renewed a pledge made Oct. 28 that countries should not negotiate individually for the release of their hostages in Iraq.
"If the aim of Saddam Hussein is to utilize the hostages for political advantage, he now has a clear answer . . . no," said Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis, reporting on the results of the emergency session. "He can have no political advantage from the hostage issue."
Although the ministers tonight did not specifically condemn Brandt, Britain and Italy over the weekend raised objections to his trip, with some British officials arguing that it violated the European Community agreement. Today, Belgium and the Netherlands launched sharper protests against the Brandt trip.
"The Netherlands is concerned . . . that five days after a European summit during which a declaration was issued saying there would be no missions to Iraq, the Brandt mission was announced," a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
The European foreign ministers agreed tonight that the United Nations should be the only mediator with Iraq on the hostages. De Michelis said he would ask U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to press efforts to send an envoy to Iraq to discuss the issue.
The German government today tried both to wish Brandt success in freeing hostages and to distance itself from his solo mission. Chancellor Helmut Kohl issued a statement in which he wished Brandt "success in the interest of the stricken hostages." But the Kohl government later told German reporters that the Brandt trip is only being "tolerated" and "not supported."
Kohl is torn between his desire to show relatives of the 380 German hostages that he is attending to their interests and his commitment to his European allies not to support any private negotiations with Saddam.
Germany has been especially sensitive to criticism of Brandt's trip because of Bonn's late decision to help pay for the military buildup and its refusal to send German troops to the Persian Gulf region.
Kohl's initial comments on the prospect of a Brandt venture were critical, but after Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher learned last Wednesday night that Brandt was going to Baghdad over their objections, they decided to accept the trip. Bonn officials said tonight the government's decision not to object to the mission was also prompted by signals from Iraq that Saddam intends to release a large number of hostages to Brandt.
Brandt, a popular elder statesman whose Social Democratic Party is lagging far behind Kohl's Christian Democrats in polls looking ahead to the Dec. 2 German elections, said he decided to go to Baghdad to try to free German and other hostages and to seek a non-military solution to the gulf crisis, sparked by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2. He described his mission as "finding out if there is still an alternative to war."
Brandt, 76, took a 250-seat Airbus to Baghdad loaded with medical supplies and baby food donated by German companies and assembled by the Social Democratic Party. Party officials denied the supplies were intended as ransom for the release of hostages, maintaining they were solely for humanitarian relief.
German television reported tonight that the German Foreign Ministry paid to charter the Lufthansa Airbus to carry Brandt to Iraq. The Iraqi ambassador to Bonn met Brandt's party at the Frankfurt airport and wished them success.
Fourteen Germans and one Belgian who were held in Iraq arrived in Frankfurt tonight after being released, apparently as the result of another private trip to Baghdad, this one by the chairman of the Cologne company for which they work.
Correspondent Edward Cody in Amman and special correspondent Clare Pedrick in Rome contributed to this report.