Hostage Broadcasts Spark Backlash Among Iraqis

WaPo — Hostage Broadcasts Spark Backlash Among Iraqis

The videotape of a bound and blindfolded U.S. Marine held hostage in Iraq has produced a backlash of revulsion among Iraqis. “This is a terrible thing,” said Ali Hashim, 33, a shoe salesman in downtown Baghdad. “Hostage-taking, beheading . . . it’s not our tradition. We have a tradition of hospitality. This hurts the image of the Iraqi people.”

Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 24, a Lebanese American, is the latest of a succession of hostages shown on videotapes sent to Arab broadcasters by underground groups opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq. Hassoun was listed as missing, reportedly after leaving his post, but now has been classified by the U.S. military as “captured.” Of the dozens of hostages, at least two — an American businessman and a South Korean contractor — have been beheaded. A videotape purporting to show another captured American soldier, Spec. Keith M. Maupin, 20, being shot in the head was received Tuesday by the al-Jazeera satellite television network. Earlier this week three Turkish hostages were released by their captors. At least one Pakistani worker and two other Turks are still believed to be held.

The hostage-takings and the threat of continued violence have further isolated foreigners in Iraq from their work. In the past few days, U.S. authorities have urged Western contractors not to leave the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad. Most of those who do venture out wear bulletproof vests and are accompanied by highly paid armed guards. Foreigners who did not consider themselves likely targets are nonetheless rethinking whether to remain in the country. In Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation, a company that provided cleaning personnel to a U.S. air base near Fallujah, west of Baghdad, said it was abandoning its work in Iraq after two of its workers were kidnapped. “While our boys are in this situation, we cannot think about business anymore,” said Cumali Kayacam, manager of the Kayteks company, based in southeastern Turkey. “We’ve stopped the business.” About 15 Turkish nationals working for the company returned home on Tuesday, he said.

After the countless broadcasts of videotapes of hostages, Iraqis expressed sympathy for the danger felt by foreigners. A reporter on the street was greeted with invitations to tea and solicitous questions about his safety. “We don’t approve of taking hostages. If the insurgents really want to do something, they should chase soldiers, not civilians,” said Kawakib Peters, 39, who was shopping for shoes. “These beheadings destroy the image of the Iraqi people and shows them as uncivilized,” said Saad Abdel Ali, 54, an electrical supply salesman. “It is being done by outsiders,” he said. “Beheading and hostage-taking are not legitimate in Islamic law,” said Riyadh Hussein, the white-turbaned imam of a soaring new mosque in downtown Baghdad. He suggested that the hostage-takings were the result of some unspecified conspiracy. “I have no doubt some of our people gloat over it. But this is being done to destroy the image of the resistance and the image of Muslims in the rest of the world. I feel there are some pockets of extremists in the Islamic world who are motivated and manipulated by Americans or others.”

Interesting. One wonders how widespread the revulsion is. More importantly, whether it will translate into action–or at least the end of safe harbor for the thugs.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I doubt it will end it utterly.
    Consider; there are always safehouses for criminals, and support for criminals, people willing to hope for and work for evil, even in our own country. Look at the number of supposed Americans who were hoping for US to fail in Iraq. Does anyone seriously think this will put an end to the criminal element in iraq altogether?

    But this change you’ve noted will help.