Captors show off American soldier

Army private missing in Iraq since ambush appears on videotape

Four other hostages released

April 17, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. soldier who has been missing for a week since his fuel convoy was attacked west of Baghdad was seen on a videotape yesterday being held captive by six armed and masked men. The family of the soldier, Pfc. Keith Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, confirmed his identity.

A voice speaking in Arabic on the tape, first shown on the Arab news network al-Jazeera, said Maupin was being held to trade for Iraqi prisoners in the hands of Americans.

Maupin, who identified himself on the tape, was dressed in fatigues and a floppy desert hat and shown looking down, chewing on his lip nervously.

The Pentagon said Maupin was one of two soldiers missing after an attack April 9. Seven civilian contractors are also missing from that attack.

"I came to Iraq to liberate it," Maupin said, according to an Arabic translation broadcast by al-Jazeera, in a soft and uncertain voice. "But I didn't want to come here because I wanted to be with my son."

He said he is married and has a 10-month-old son.

The tape was released on a complex day in the struggle to end two serious standoffs between Iraqi insurgents and the U.S. military. A rebel Shiite Muslim cleric again defied a key American demand, and U.S. officials said their patience with Sunni Muslim insurgents was running out.

In Washington, President Bush met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain; both asserted they would stand firm in their commitment to pursue their goals in Iraq, despite the difficulties of recent weeks.

Blair said there would be a stepped-up effort for recruiting and training Iraqi police and security personnel, and a critical role for the United Nations.

Abduction tactic

Over the past two weeks, Iraqi insurgents have abducted about 40 foreigners - about half of whom have been released unharmed, including at least four yesterday - as part of a new strategy that has raised the dangers here and caused further divisions among the United States and its allies over Iraq.

Yesterday, 118 workers from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics were evacuated from Iraq.

With 2,500 troops surrounding the cities of Najaf and Kufa, south of Baghdad, the Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, appeared for the first time in public in two weeks, preaching a fiery sermon at a mosque in Kufa, the center of his strength. In it, he refused to disband his militia, the Mahdi Army, as U.S. officials have repeatedly demanded.

"That will not happen," said al-Sadr, who led a broad uprising against the U.S. occupation here. "I have founded this army with the cooperation of the Iraqi people." He had hinted in recent days that he could agree to some face-saving compromise to avoid a bloody showdown with U.S. soldiers surrounding Najaf.

Also yesterday, Shiite militia members ambushed a U.S. convoy near Kufa. There was no immediate word on any casualties.

Meantime, in the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, U.S. officials issued a clear warning yesterday that they will not allow the violence there to continue and that time was running out for peace talks.

The warning was sounded at a news conference right before U.S. officials met with tribal elders from Fallujah to discuss alternatives short of a military takeover of the city, a hotbed of resistance and one of the gravest security concerns in Iraq.

"I must be candid and say time is limited," said Richard Jones, the deputy administrator for the occupation authority in Iraq. "We cannot just sit here and allow the situation to continue the way it is. There are literally tens of thousands of innocent people who are bottled up in that city, and we don't want them to continue to be held hostage by these terrorist and militant groups."

Jones then stepped inside a heavily guarded building on a U.S. Marine base to negotiate with the Fallujah delegation, who were so concerned about reprisals for talking to the Americans that they did not want their identities revealed or their pictures taken.

After the meeting, Hashem al Hassani, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party and one of the intermediaries between U.S. officials and Fallujah representatives, said the Fallujah contingent agreed to put more pressure on insurgents to stop attacking U.S. forces and to lay down their heavy weapons.

"Fallujans want to return to peace and normal life," Hassani said. "They are willing to take steps in that direction."

A lull in violence

Even with the standoffs in Najaf and Fallujah unresolved and still potentially volatile, there has been no sign in recent days of the violence that raged though cities west and south of the capital this month.

But the new problem of kidnapping - a tactic that U.S. officials seem to have no real tools to combat - loomed as a personal and emotional embodiment of the risks in Iraq.

In the al-Jazeera video, the gunman standing closest to Maupin held his finger on the trigger of his automatic rifle. No mention was made of the other missing soldier, Sgt. Elmer C. Krause, 40, of Greensboro, N.C.

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