Saturday, January 22, 2005

Chinese Hostages Released

By Andrew Marshall

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Insurgents in Iraq released eight Chinese laborers they had taken hostage and threatened to kill, as guerrillas attacked more Shi'ite targets ahead of Jan. 30 elections.

A video tape produced by the insurgents and seen by Reuters correspondents showed the Chinese standing or kneeling in two rows in the desert, holding their passports open for the camera. A man with his face covered by a traditional checkered headdress then shook hands with each of the hostages before they walked off camera. China's embassy in Baghdad later confirmed the eight had been released, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

On Tuesday, the guerrilla group holding the men said it would kill them within 48 hours unless Beijing -- which opposed the war in Iraq -- explained why they were in the country.

Guerrillas fighting U.S.-led troops and Iraq's American-backed government have kidnapped more than 100 foreigners over the past year. Around a third have been killed.

They are also waging a campaign of suicide attacks and ambushes ahead of Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, targeting Iraqi security forces, Shi'ite groups and election officials.


Late on Friday, a suicide attack on a Shi'ite wedding party south of Baghdad killed at least 11 people.

Witnesses said the bomber drove an ambulance filled with explosives toward the tent where the wedding was being held and blew up the vehicle. Local doctors said 11 people were killed and 27 injured, and the toll was expected to rise.

The victims were members of a Shi'ite tribe. Survivors said the final death toll could be as high as 25.

Just hours before the attack, a suicide car bomber killed 14 Shi'ite worshippers as they left a Baghdad mosque.

Shi'ite Muslims have been repeatedly attacked ahead of the election. The polls are expected to cement the new political dominance of the 60 percent Shi'ite majority after years of oppression under Saddam Hussein. Many Sunni Arabs, the ruling class under Saddam, fear they will be marginalized.