Philippines Cedes To Kidnappers

Filipino hostage Angelo dela Cruz, Iraq
The Philippines said Wednesday it is withdrawing its small peacekeeping contingent from Iraq early to meet the demand of kidnappers threatening to kill a captive Filipino truck driver.

The announcement, which said the pullout was beginning immediately, was a dramatic turnaround by one of Washington's biggest backers in the global war on terrorism. The Southeast Asian country earlier vowed it would not yield to pressure to move up the withdrawal, which had been scheduled for Aug. 20 when the force's mandate ends.

It was a blow to the U.S.-led international contingent in Iraq, which earlier was hit by the pullout of Spanish forces following the deadly terror attacks on Madrid train system. U.S. officials had expressed displeasure that Manila was even considering caving in to the kidnappers' demand, a position echoed by Australia and Iraq's new interim government.

"The Foreign Affairs Ministry is coordinating the pullout of the humanitarian contingent with the Ministry of National Defense," a government statement said. "As of today, our head count is down from 51 to 43."

A deadline set by the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps for the Philippines to meet the group's troop withdrawal demand expired early Tuesday, but negotiations continued in Iraq through intermediaries.

The insurgents had told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that Angelo dela Cruz, a poor father of eight, already had been moved to the place he would be killed if she didn't change her mind.

The crisis put Arroyo squarely between domestic concerns and her previously strong commitment to the United States, the Philippines' former colonial power.

The timing was particularly bad, with political wounds still fresh from a bitter election. The opposition claims it won and has warned of possible mass protests. But the government has said that the threat of possible destabilization plots had eased following Arroyo's inauguration for a new six-year term on June 30.

Arroyo's handling of the crisis has drawn criticism. In a second day of protests demanding that the Philippines withdraws from Iraq, about 300 left-wing activists were dispersed Tuesday by baton-wielding police outside Manila's Quiapo Church. Several people were reported injured.

The Philippines had imposed a news blackout on the crisis Monday, two days after a possible deal for dela Cruz's release apparently fell apart when the government prematurely announced that he was in the process of being taken to a Baghdad hotel.

"Let us leave the government to do what is necessary to save the life of an innocent Filipino and to uphold our nation's interest," presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye had said.

"It is not for us to judge and raise our voices now that Angelo's life hangs in the balance. This is the most sensitive point in the hostage crisis. We must unite behind Angelo's family, keep our peace and pray hard."

Iraqi militants have repeatedly used terrorist attacks to try to force governments to withdraw from the U.S.-led occupation force.

In March, a series of terrorist bombings on commuter trains in Madrid shortly before national elections was believed to have contributed to a victory by the socialists, who had campaigned on a platform of withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. New Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled out the troops soon after taking office.

Militants also tried to pressure South Korea by kidnapping one of its citizens in Iraq and demanding that Seoul drop plans to deploy 3,000 troops beginning in August. South Korea refused, and the captive was beheaded last month.

In other developments:

  • A militant group holding two Bulgarian truck drivers said it had killed one of them, and threatened to kill the other in 24 hours unless the U.S. releases all Iraqi detainees, according to the Pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera.
  • Assassins tried to kill the head of Iraq's Olympic committee in an ambush of his convoy in the middle of Baghdad, the head of the committee said Tuesday. Insurgents fired rocket propelled grenades at the man's convoy, damaging his bodyguards' car and injuring one of the guards, he said.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair, facing a potentially damaging report on the British intelligence which backed his decision to go to war in Iraq, said Tuesday that he felt "very much as I did 18 months ago" and believed the world was safer with Saddam Hussein out of power. The report on Britain's pre-war intelligence, due out Wednesday, is expected to be just as critical as the Senate's look at U.S. intelligence, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Holt.
  • A Marine who disappeared from his post in Iraq and turned up later in Lebanon will still return to the United States this week, even though his debriefing is taking longer than expected, an official said Tuesday. Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun is talking with intelligence specialists, psychologists, physicians and a Muslim chaplain at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
  • Several explosions were heard the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and a cloud of dust could be seen rising above the so-called Green Zone. It was not immediately clear if an explosion had occurred in the area, which was the headquarters of the former U.S.-led occupation authorities.
  • Iraqi police on Monday swept through a Baghdad neighborhood, killing one person, wounding two and rounding up hundreds of suspected criminals. The deputy interior minister says the operation was aimed at people he called "criminals, kidnappers and looters."
  • Kurdish security forces have captured 15 militants in northern Iraq, including one man believed to be a senior leader of a local al Qaeda-linked group, an official in a pro-American Kurdish party said Tuesday. Among those arrested late Monday evening was a man identified as Hemen Banishiri, reportedly the second-in-command for the radical Kurdish group, Ansar al-Islam, said Saadi Ahmed, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's political wing.
  • Iraqi officials say insurgents have clashed with Iraqi National Guardsmen in the northern city of Mosul. One soldier was killed and several others hurt.