800 British troops redeployed in Iraq

Abducted CARE director again begs for life

details emerge on recruit ambush

October 28, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - British troops redeployed yesterday from the relative safety of their base in Basra to the dangerous province of Babil, southeast of Baghdad, a move that will free up U.S. troops for an expected assault on the insurgent-dominated city of Fallujah.

The British move came as Al-Jazeera television aired another video of kidnapped Irish-born humanitarian worker Margaret Hassan pleading for her life, and Japan's prime minister rejected demands from militants holding a Japanese hostage to withdraw his nation's forces from Iraq.

A U.S. soldier based at Camp Anaconda, about 42 miles north of Baghdad, was killed and another was injured in a suspected motorcycle-bomb attack on a convoy, and new details were released on the ambush Saturday that killed about 50 Iraqi army recruits.

In giving new information about the ambush, a senior Iraqi Defense Ministry official seemed to be trying to defuse any tension between the United States and interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi over Allawi's statement Tuesday that the ambush "was the outcome of major neglect by some parts of the multinational [forces]."

"The dead national guardsmen are the negligent ones," said the senior official, who asked that his name not be used. He said the guardsmen had taken a shortcut through a dangerous road they should have avoided, and he claimed that they left a day earlier than scheduled. "They refused to wait another day for us to provide them security to escort them back to Baghdad," he said.

The U.S. command in Iraq limited its response to a terse statement and refused to directly address Allawi's unusually harsh criticism.

"This was a coldblooded and systematic massacre by terrorists," Lt. Col. Steven Boylan said a statement Tuesday. "They, and no one else, must be held fully accountable for these heinous acts."

In the video, Hassan, head of CARE International in Iraq, tearfully pleads for Prime Minister Tony Blair to save her life by withdrawing British troops and releasing all female prisoners held by the coalition. Hassan, 59, has lived in Iraq for decades and has Iraqi citizenship.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected demands to withdraw 500 Japanese troops in exchange for the release of a Japanese national identified as Shosei Koda, 24. Japan's troops, in Iraq on a purely humanitarian mission, haven't engaged in any fighting.

"The Self-Defense Forces will not withdraw," Koizumi said. "I cannot allow terrorism and cannot bow to terrorism."

Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida-linked group posted a video of Koda on an Islamist Web site Tuesday, promising to kill him within 48 hours if Japan's troops aren't removed.

British officials have been tight-lipped about where precisely its redeployed 800 soldiers will be based, but they'll be patrolling a region known for kidnappings and ambushes.

Some Iraqis in Baghdad said they thought the British might fare better in the area than American troops had, citing the British soldiers' friendly demeanor and memories of Britain's former rule of Iraq.

"The British have more knowledge and more background about the traditions, behaviors and customs of the Iraqis," said Saleh Mohammed, 44, a shopkeeper.

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