Two members of a group of Americans leaving for Iraq Monday in hopes of securing the release of relatives held hostage there say their mission is beyond politics.
"I only care that that man is on the plane with me," Kim Edwards, a mother of three from Carson City, Nev., said of her British husband, Tony, who has been detained in Baghdad since Aug. 2.
As for criticism that family members who go to Iraq to plead their cases are aiding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's effort to soften public opinion toward his actions, Barbara Smiley, the wife of an American hostage, said, "If he wants propaganda, let him have it; we want our husbands and sons back."
Edwards and Smiley are part of a group of 18 persons who plan to leave the United States Monday to visit Baghdad, where they have been given assurances that they will be allowed to visit with relatives.
Since the release earlier this week of three hostages who were allowed to leave with American relatives who visited them over the Thanksgiving holiday, these women have high hopes that they, too, will return to the country with their family members.
"I am so sure he is coming out," Edwards said of her husband, an urban planner.
The two women spoke at a news conference Friday organized by Coming Home, an Illinois-based support network for the families of hostages held in Iraq. The news conference kicked off a seminar on humanitarian responses to the Persian Gulf crisis.
Saddam is holding about 100 Americans and 500 other foreigners as human shields, insurance of sorts against U.S. military action.
The State Department has advised Americans against traveling to Iraq and repeatedly has condemned Saddam for holding hostages. In response to questions about the government's position, Michael Saba, organizer of Coming Home, said he believes "there's a large difference between negotiating and dialogue."
None of the humanitarian groups that have gone to Iraq and left with foreign hostages "are in a position to negotiate because they don't represent a government," he said.
Hours after the two women spoke, President Bush, in his Friday news conference, said he was "deeply concerned about all the hostages." Bush called Saddam's selective release of hostages a "cynical and brutal policy of forcing people to beg for their release, parceling out human lives to families and traveling emissaries like so much chattel."
Edwards, who described herself as "your typical housewife," said "all the wives have a duty to work" to get their husbands out and challenged reporters to consider whether they would act any differently if they were in the same situation.
Meanwhile, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who has been in Iraq for a week, delayed a flight out yesterday with 15 hostages because, aides said, he hoped to have three more freed, the Associated Press reported from Baghdad.
The aides said Ali postponed the flight to Amman, Jordan, after Bush's announcement Friday that he wanted to send Secretary of State James A. Baker III to Baghdad.