The State Department yesterday strongly warned Americans against trying to visit family members held hostage in Iraq after Iraqi authorities temporarily detained two relatives who had been invited by Baghdad to make the trip.
The U.S. Embassy obtained the release of the two male family members, but department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "It's incidents like this that force us to remind Americans that travel to Iraq is extremely risky."
Boucher added, "We warn those considering travel to Iraq of the inherent dangers of such an undertaking, and that we cannot guarantee their safety. Adult American males considering travel to Baghdad should be aware that they are, by Iraqi definition, subject to detention. Recent experience would indicate that an invitation to visit, which is extended by the Iraqi government, is not in and of itself protection from the possibility of detention."
The warning came as an unknown number of U.S. family members were planning to go to Iraq or were en route after Iraq invited them to visit relatives over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Boucher said four families have visited Iraq and another four have indicated intention to make the journey. There are also reports that several other families may be traveling together in early December, he said.
The family whose two members were detained was invited by Iraq to make the trip, Boucher said. He declined to release the family's name because of legal privacy restrictions.
He said the two Americans went to the Mansour Melia Hotel in Baghdad Tuesday and Iraqi security officials tried to move them to the heavily guarded 10th floor where the detainees are held. A U.S. consular official at the hotel on a daily visit to find Americans intervened and notified the U.S. Embassy, which protested the incident and succeeded in getting the two men released, Boucher said.