- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

BAGHDAD — Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms kidnapped two dozen employees at Red Crescent offices in downtown Baghdad yesterday, highlighting the threat to humanitarian workers swept up in Iraq’s lawlessness.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, visiting Iraq for the sixth time since the 2003 invasion, appealed for international support for Iraq and said the bloodshed was being carried out “by the very forces worldwide who are trying to prevent moderation.”

“Our task — ours, the Americans, the whole of the coalition, the international community and the Iraqis themselves — is to make sure that the forces of terrorism don’t defeat the will of the people to have a democracy,” Mr. Blair said before leaving for Israel.

The mass abduction was the latest in a series of such attacks that have targeted workers at factories, delegates at a sports conference and bystanders at bus stations. In most cases, the gunmen wore police or military uniforms. Their identity and motives were not clear.

Gunmen in five pickup trucks pulled up to the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent at about 11 a.m., police said. A Red Crescent official said that the gunmen left women behind and that six workers were later released.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said that three Iraqi security guards at its embassy building in Baghdad were kidnapped along with the Red Crescent employees and that one was later released. The embassy is next to the offices of the Iraqi aid group.

The Red Crescent, part of the international Red Cross movement, has about 1,000 staff members and about 200,000 volunteers in Iraq. It works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visits detainees and tries to provide food, water and medicine to Iraqis.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the ICRC’s director of operations, said it was the only aid organization able to work throughout Iraq — the only country where the ICRC, whose Baghdad headquarters was bombed in 2003, travels incognito for fear that its symbol could be taken as a target by armed groups rather than an emblem of protection.

Antonella Notari, a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva, said the organization was in contact with the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which denied any involvement and was searching for the abductees.

Mr. Kraehenbuehl dismissed suggestions that the abduction was linked to recent comments by the Iraqi Red Crescent’s vice president, Jamal al-Karbouli, that U.S. forces represented a greater danger to its work than militants in the Sunni-dominated insurgency.

Many international aid organizations closed down their operations in Iraq as the security situation deteriorated after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Margaret Hassan, the director of CARE international in Iraq and a citizen of Britain, Ireland and Iraq, was abducted in Baghdad in October 2004. She was killed a month later, and her body has never been found.

Yesterday, the U.S. military said a roadside bomb killed three U.S. soldiers and injured a fourth serviceman north of Baghdad. The soldiers were clearing a route so another unit could move through the area on Saturday, the military said.

The deaths raised to 57 the number of Americans killed in Iraq this month.

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