Two Canadian aid wokrers kidnapped in Iraq

Two Canadians were among four Western aid workers kidnapped in a violent neighbourhood in western Baghdad on Saturday and the Canadian government agreed to withhold information about them in an effort to protect their safety."We are deeply concerned about the fate of the hostages and we've been asked, and I agree, that we should not make any further comments because we don't want to put anybody at risk," Prime Minister Paul Martin said yesterday.

Canada's ambassador to Jordan, John Holmes, said officials in Baghdad were still trying to piece together what happened to the two Canadians believed to have been seized with an American and a Briton. The aid agency for which they work has asked that no information about it or the hostages be released.

"We are in touch with the organization and their wishes are obviously paramount as well as the safety of the individuals," Mr. Holmes said in a telephone interview from Amman. "Both Canadian individuals were indeed there on a goodwill mission to work with this humanitarian organization," said Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary for Canadians abroad. "We are working confidently with the organization to find what would be the next best step to take."

Mr. McTeague said the aid agency has not asked for any specific help and "what help we can provide is limited by our physical appearance in Iraq." Canada does not have an embassy in Iraq.

The kidnappings were confirmed yesterday by Brigadier Hussein Kamal, Iraq's deputy interior minister for intelligence, The Canadian Press reported. He refused to provide further details.

The British Foreign Office identified the British hostage as Norman Kember. Mr. Kember's wife, Pat, said last night that her husband, who is believed to be in his 70s, used to be secretary of the Baptist Peace Fellowship in Pinner, north London, where the couple live, but he no longer represents the group. "He is representing a number of different organizations," she said, but did not elaborate.

Elizabeth Colton, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the United States was investigating whether an American was in fact among the missing.

Mr. McTeague said he did not know how many Canadians were among the thousands of foreigners living and working in Iraq, including private contractors, aid workers, and journalists. He reiterated that the Canadian government has advised all Canadians since April, 2004, not to travel to Iraq.

Kidnappers have snatched more than 200 foreigners working in Iraq in the past 18 months and killed about one-fifth of them. Most recently, Rory Carroll, an Irish-national reporting for the London daily Independent was abducted on Oct. 19 in Sadr City, and released unharmed 36 hours later.

Organized criminal gangs commonly abduct wealthy Iraqi civilians for ransoms, but most of these kidnappings are not reported because of fears of reprisal.

The abduction of foreigners, which is much less frequent, are most often carried out by armed insurgents or militia groups seeking to draw attention to their causes with demands to release prisoners, and withdraw foreign troops.

Zaid Meerwali of Toronto, who fled dictator Saddam Hussein's Iraq to live in Canada in the early 1990s, was killed by gunmen in Baghdad in August despite the fact his family was preparing to pay $250,000 demanded for his release, reports Globe and Mail. I.L.

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