- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 8, 2004

Iraqi militants have seized Korean, Japanese and Arab-Israeli civilians in the past two days, introducing an ominous new tactic designed to test the will of U.S. coalition partners who never expected to have to fight. The seven seized Koreans subsequently were released.

Japan said it had no plans to withdraw its 530 troops from the southern city of Samawa, despite a chilling threat from the insurgents that the three Japanese will be burned alive if Tokyo keeps its forces in Iraq.

For most of the past year, the 26,500 troops from the 40 “coalition of the willing” nations have faced few dangers beyond homesickness, fatigue, sunburn and sand fleas.

Most were in out-of-the-way deployments far from the centers of conflict, working on humanitarian and reconstruction missions. In at least one case, they were not even authorized to fight.

But this week’s uprising has put many foreign units squarely in the line of fire and is testing the resolve of their home governments.

Since Spain pledged to remove its troops after last month’s Madrid bombings brought about a change in government, more administrations are under domestic pressure to bring their troops home:

• Bulgaria’s 450 troops are forbidden to engage in combat, and Sofia has asked for U.S. help in protecting its forces in the city of Karbala. But the government “firmly asserts” that it plans to remain in Iraq.

• Kazakhstan’s defense minister has proposed pulling his nation’s 27 soldiers out of Iraq when their deployment is finished this summer.

“It is a proposal. No decision has been made. We expect an official position to be known shortly,” said Roman Vassilenko, spokesman for the Kazakh Embassy in Washington yesterday.

“I can say until now the government’s position has been we are firmly committed. We intend to stay the course. So far, this is just a proposal.”

• Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Tuesday after 12 Italian soldiers were wounded in clashes at Nasariyah that it would be “unthinkable to flee the mission we have started: We would leave the country in chaos.”

Mr. Berlusconi firmly supported President Bush before the Iraq war last year, despite popular opposition at home.

• Ukraine’s 1,650 troops withdrew from the town of Kut to safer positions after an all-night battle on Tuesday, leaving weapons and supplies to the attackers.

• South Korea has confined its 600 troops to working only on secure military bases.

Michael O’Hanlon, defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, predicted that the coalition would not go “wobbly.”

“We are looking ahead and guessing, but it took a tragedy like March 11 in Spain to cause a country to waver. And Australia, a primary recipient of terrorism in Bali, [Indonesia,] has not wavered,” he said yesterday.

“The coalition is holding up reasonably well. There is nervousness, but on balance, I’m hopeful.”

Combat-wary Japanese were shocked yesterday when the Arabic-language Al Jazeera television station broadcast pictures of three blindfolded and kneeling Japanese hostages — one of them a woman — held by a previously unknown organization called the Mujahideen Brigades.

Nevertheless, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters in Tokyo that there was “no reason” for Japan to withdraw from the coalition.

The three hostages, who were snatched in southern Iraq, included a journalist and an aid worker. They were identified as Nahoko Takato, Noriaki Imai and Soichiro Koriyama.

“We tell you that three of your children have fallen prisoner in our hands, and we give you two options: Withdraw your forces from our country and go home, or we will burn them alive and feed them to the fighters,” said a message broadcast on Al Jazeera.

The Japanese government was given three days to meet the demand.

Also yesterday, eight Christian missionaries from South Korea were stopped by armed men at a checkpoint on the highway from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. It said they had been traveling in two cars to attend the opening of a missionary school near the northern city of Mosul.

The gunmen dragged seven of the missionaries from the vehicles and seized their passports. The eighth escaped when the Iraqi driver of her car drove off before she could get out. All were freed without explanation after about nine hours.

Iranian television meanwhile reported the abduction of the two Arab-Israelis and broadcast images of their documents, including an Israeli driver’s license, a health insurance card and a supermarket card. A U.S. driver’s license from Georgia also was shown.

An uncle of one of the men, Nabil Razouk, 30, told AP that his nephew had an Israeli passport and had worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“I want to tell the Iraqis he is not a spy, not for America and not for Israel,” the uncle said in an interview. “He is an Arab, a member of the Arab nation, a Palestinian like me living in Jerusalem under Israeli occupation.”

The other captive was identified as Ahmed Yassin Tikati.

In London, a Foreign Office official reported the disappearance on Monday of Gary Teeley, a 37-year-old British national who had been working at a U.S. air base.

Since the start of the war, 17 Italians, 11 Spaniards, five Bulgarians, three Ukrainians and two Poles have been killed. The British have lost 58 soldiers.

This story is based in part on wire service reports

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