BAGHDAD, IRAQ, NOV. 20 -- All 170 German hostages held in Iraq and Kuwait are to be allowed to go home, possibly starting in two days, Iraqi officials said today.
President Saddam Hussein proposed their release as a reward for the stand taken by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who has been urging a negotiated settlement to the crisis that began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2. Iraq's National Assembly then voted approval.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad's most drastic move yet to combat the trade blockade imposed by the U.N. Security Council in August, the assembly also ordered death for anyone convicted of hoarding wheat, flour, rice, barley or corn, Baghdad newspapers reported. They said the law resulted from "the emergency circumstances the country is undergoing and which are represented by the unjust embargo."
An Iraqi official said exit formalities for the Germans would begin immediately and that the first could start leaving as soon as Thursday.
A German Embassy spokesman said 44 German men were known to be held as "human shields" at strategic sites.
An Iraqi Foreign Ministry representative told the assembly that Saddam's proposal reflected "the stand of Chancellor Helmut Kohl in favor of talks and of former chancellor Willy Brandt, particularly after his return from Iraq." Brandt visited Baghdad earlier this month and gained the release of about 200 hostages after talks with Saddam.
Saddam told the assembly: "Mr. Kohl is a courageous man when he adopts such a position. It is our duty to encourage him and encourage the German people to take further stances that would distinguish between the interests of Germany and the interests of those seeking war and hegemony" -- an apparent reference to President Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
French right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen said here that he too had obtained the release of hostages and would bring them to Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament. France's La Cinq television channel said Le Pen will return with about 100 Europeans.
All French hostages were released by Iraq last month, but about 2,000 other Westerners have been prevented from leaving Iraq and Kuwait.