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U.S. Ally Tries To Save Hostage

Filipino hostage Angelo dela Cruz, Iraq
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The Manila government is waiting to find out whether a Filipino kidnapped in Iraq is alive or dead.

The insurgents have demanded a Philippine troop withdrawal in exchange for the hostage's safe passage, though today a deadline went by without a word from his captors.

But the situation is mired in confusion. Manila released an ambiguous statement today that appears to have been crafted to convince the kidnappers they had won. It promised to pull its troops out of Iraq "as soon as preparations for their return to the Philippines are completed."

Following the statement, a media blackout was imposed, and Manila refused to clarify its intentions.

The State Department wants to know just what the Philippine government is offering the kidnappers -- in a crisis that puts the Philippines in a difficult position. It is a key U-S ally. But domestically, it does not want to be viewed as forsaking one of its nationals.

The Philippines government made a direct appeal early Tuesday to the insurgents holding the hostage, pleading with them to show mercy for the man they pledged to kill if the country did not agree to pull its troops from Iraq early.

The appeal came hours after Iraq's interim president lashed out at guerrillas who have killed hundreds of Iraqis in recent months and promised to use a "very sharp sword" against anyone threatening Iraq's security.

Also, another militant group holding two Bulgarian truck drivers said it had killed one of them, and threatened to kill the other in 24 hours, according to the Pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera.

Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad threatened last week to kill the men if the United States did not release all Iraqi detainees by Saturday.

Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Rafael Seguis went on the Arab television station Al-Jazeera on Tuesday in an effort to secure Angelo dela Cruz's release.

Insurgents have said they would kill the truck driver Tuesday if the Philippines did not agree to pull its 51-member peacekeeping force by July 20. The government on Monday restated that its troop commitment ended Aug. 20.

In other developments:

  • 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.

    The militant group, the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps, said it had done everything possible to prove it wanted to spare the life of dela Cruz, the 46-year-old father of eight, adding that it had given him food and water.

    A deadline for two other hostages — Bulgarian truck drivers held by a separate group demanding the release of all Iraqi detainees — expired Saturday morning.

    At least one Bulgarian diplomat traveled to Iraq to help win the release of the hostages, a diplomat familiar with the talks said on condition of anonymity.

    Hostage-taking, car bombs, assassinations and general violence have hindered Iraq's efforts to rebuild the country still reeling from sanctions and war. The attacks have killed scores of U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqi civilians in the 15 months since Saddam Hussein's ouster.

    Iraqi officials have been talking increasingly tough about those who continue to carry out attacks across the country — even though the 2-week-old Iraqi government has been discussing offering a limited amnesty to militants to put down the 14-month-old insurgency.

    "Terrorism isn't just killing and blowing up bombs, whoever threatens the ordinary life of the people is a terrorist," President Ghazi al-Yawer told a news conference. "We have a very sharp sword ready for anyone who threatens the security of this country."

    He said insurgents could no longer wage attacks under the guise of resistance to an occupying power, since the United States transferred sovereignty two weeks ago.

    "The occupation is over now," he said. "We want to tell anyone who wants to threaten the security of this country: 'Enough,' I say, 'Enough. Stop.'"

    Diplomats moved Monday to help Iraq restore order, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan choosing veteran Pakistani diplomat Ashraf Jehangir Qazi as the new U.N. envoy to Iraq.

    In Brussels, Belgium, the European Union foreign ministers pledged to help promote a stable democracy in Iraq by offering economic aid — as soon as security allowed.

    Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appealed Tuesday for NATO to quickly begin its promised mission to train his country's armed forces and provide assistance including military hardware.

    "We need this training … to be carried out as soon as possible," Zebari told reporters at NATO headquarters. "We are in a race against time — it's a matter of urgency."

    NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the 26 allies would decide this month on launching the training mission.

    He said the alliance would also consider Zebari's requests for military equipment, help guarding Iraq's borders and protection for a U.N. mission in the country ahead of elections in January.