Task force: 439 hostages since start of Iraq war

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – At least 439 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion three years ago, most recently a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates, according to figures provided Wednesday by a special U.S. anti-kidnapping task force.

Statistics from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad’s Hostage Working Group show the victims include 165 private contractors and their employees, 63 drivers, 39 journalists, 23 non-governmental organization workers and 15 diplomats or government employees, among others.

“The nature of the problem is complex, but progress is being made. There have been numerous rescues, and the Iraqi court system is beginning to prosecute kidnappers,” Erik Rye, director of the Hostage Working Group, told The Associated Press.

The latest case was that of Naji Rashid al-Nuaimi, a 28-year-old diplomat with the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in Baghdad. Authorities say al-Nuaimi was snatched by gunmen Tuesday night while returning from the home of the Emirates’ cultural attache near the embassy.

The gunmen first shot his Sudanese driver – who died in a hospital – and then whisked him away.

A claim of responsibility has yet to surface. But in several other kidnappings of diplomats, the feared al-Qaida in Iraq group has stepped forward, justifying the attack as a way to dissuade Arab countries from strengthening their diplomatic ties with the new Iraqi government.

The task force’s statistics, first reported Wednesday in The New York Times, showed people from 60 countries have been kidnapped. The top six nationalities taken hostage were Turkish, Jordanian, American, Lebanese, Egyptian and Nepalese.

Some kidnap victims have gotten a lot of attention. They include American freelance reporter Jill Carroll, who spent 82 days in captivity before being released March 30.

Other foreigners kidnapped included 14 telecommunications workers, eight Christian missionaries, six military personnel, four translators, three local politicians, two students, one Shiite cleric, one tourist, one filmmaker, one jobseeker, and 93 people of unknown professions.

According to an AP tally, more than 260 foreigners have been abducted, at least 40 killed.

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