- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Videotapes broadcast by Arab television yesterday showed two hostages held in Iraq by insurgents who said one was a U.S. Marine and threatened to behead both.

Military officials in Baghdad last night said a corporal of Lebanese descent assigned to the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq has been “absent since June 21.”

Although officials said they could not confirm that Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun had been taken hostage, a video broadcast by the Al Jazeera network claimed that the kidnapped man had the same name.

The video showed a man in camouflage with a trimmed mustache and card identifying him as an “active duty” Marine. A white blindfold covered his eyes.

Iraqi terrorists also are holding three Turkish contractors under threat of death unless Turks end cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition, a demand Turkey said yesterday it would not consider.

Meanwhile, a U.S. transport plane was hit by small-arms fire yesterday and there were explosions in and around Baghdad, as part of a pattern of escalating violence leading up to Wednesday’s transfer of sovereignty in Iraq.

National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice yesterday said Iraq’s new government intends to use members of Saddam Hussein’s former army to fill the ranks of the country’s security forces after the transfer of power.

The Iraqis plan to use well-trained personnel from Saddam’s army, although the new government “is as concerned as everybody that people with blood on their hands not be brought back,” she told “Fox News Sunday.”

Noting the transfer of sovereignty will proceed as planned, Miss Rice called it “obvious that those who have no future in the new Iraq and the foreign terrorists are trying to derail this political transition.”

One U.S. soldier was killed yesterday when a mortar round slammed into a U.S. camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, and a U.S. citizen died from the small-arms fire that struck a U.S. Air Force C-130 transport shortly after it took off from the Iraqi capital.

The plane made an emergency landing in Baghdad, where five Iraqis, including a child, were reportedly killed when mortar shells hit the eastern bank of the Tigris river that snakes through the city’s center.

Also yesterday, gunmen dressed in black killed six soldiers of the Iraqi National Guard, formerly the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, and wounded four others at a checkpoint in Jalawla, 75 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, said a group calling itself the Islamic Response Movement, the security wing of the “1920 Revolution Brigades,” was behind the kidnapping of a Marine after luring him from a U.S. base.

A brief video showed a man dressed in camouflage sitting in a chair while his captors held a sword above his head. A Marine Corps identity card named him as Wassef Ali Hassoun. Other official documents also displayed his name.

The TV network said the group threatened to behead the man if their demands were not met, but did not set a deadline. It was not clear what the group’s demands were.

A separate hostage video was broadcast by Al Arabiya television, showing an unidentified group of gunmen saying they had captured a Pakistani man carrying an identity card for U.S. military contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root. They also threatened to behead him unless Iraqi prisoners are released and set a deadline of three days.

Iraq’s interim government, which will assume power until nationwide elections are held next year, has made it clear security is going to be a “very high priority,” said Miss Rice, who was in Turkey, where President Bush was attending a NATO summit. She said the Iraqis have measures they can take, such as “bringing back some pretty sophisticated, pretty well-trained security personnel.”

Members of Saddam’s army already have been used in one of the conflict’s flash points. In late May, the Marines began using the 2,000-strong “Fallujah Brigade,” mainly consisting of Ba’athists who served under the ousted dictator, to run patrols in the city 30 miles west of Baghdad.

U.S. fighter jets pounded targets in Fallujah last week, reportedly focusing on suspected guerilla safe houses of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, the accused al Qaeda mastermind in Iraq thought to be responsible for the beheadings of American Nicholas Berg and South Korean Kim Sun-il.

Miss Rice said Iraqi officials “recognize that the future of Iraq cannot be built on the pillars of the worst of the old Ba’ath Party” and are “quite willing and quite capable of vetting people.”

The Bush administration, for months, has stressed that U.S. forces were training Iraqis for new security forces. It was not clear yesterday the degree to which such training will relate to the use of members of Saddam’s former army.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, dismissed the training efforts yesterday, saying it was “not the Iraqis’ fault” that “there is no competent Iraqi security force.” Appearing on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said, “There’s been no real training program so far.”

Mr. Biden added that the situation in Iraq is “going to get worse initially, but I think it will get better.”

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who also appeared on the CBS program, said, “It’s going to take awhile to build up Iraqi police forces and the Iraqi military again. You don’t just do it overnight.”

Mr. Powell said he and others within the State Department have noticed that “there does seem to be a level of coordination, a level of command and control with the insurgency that we have to target and go after.”

“We’ve got to get inside that command and control system,” he said, “in order for us to be more effective in putting that insurgency down and in order for the Iraqis to be more effective in putting down the insurgency.”

The deadly wave of attacks that tore across Iraq on Thursday showed a level of coordination not seen since late last year, when four car bombs rocked Baghdad in a single day. Thursday’s attacks spanned six cities over six hours, killing more than 100 people and wounding more than 300. The most serious attack was in the northern city of Mosul.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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