After Visit, Iraq Vows to Free 10 Britons
A group of British women Saturday won the release of relatives held in Iraq as human shields, and President Saddam Hussein promised a Catholic priest that he would free “a large number” of Italians.
Iraqi officials said 10 British hostages would leave with their wives as soon as they complete exit visa formalities. Eleven women--10 wives and the daughter of a hostage--arrived in Baghdad last week to seek the release of the men.
Greece said 10 hostages will be released today. The Iraqi Embassy in Athens said Hussein ordered the release in response to an appeal by representatives of the Greek-Iraqi Friendship Assn., currently visiting Baghdad.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said German hostages freed by Iraq also were expected to return home this afternoon.
The spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there are about 170 Germans left in Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq has said that all German hostages will be allowed to leave, but the spokesman said he did not know how many would be on today’s flight.
Hundreds of foreigners have been held in Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait in August. Some have been freed in return for shipments of food and medicines and others in an attempt to gain favor and divide the international coalition opposed to the invasion.
More than 400 Britons have been held at strategic sites as human shields against a potential military attack. Iraq calls these hostages “guests.” The hostages also include 200 other foreigners, mostly Americans and Japanese.
In addition to the Britons held at about 30 installations in Iraq and occupied Kuwait, about 700 Britons also are prevented from traveling.
The official Iraqi News Agency reported Saturday that Hussein met with Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, of the Melchite Church of the Eastern Rite, and promised to free “a large number of Italian nationals.” There are 270 Italians trapped in Iraq and occupied Kuwait.
The agency said Hussein is allowing the Italians to leave in appreciation of Capucci’s mission.
The report followed the arrival in Baghdad on Saturday of an Alitalia jetliner carrying 25 tons of medical supplies. The Syrian-born Capucci, who lives in Rome, was at Baghdad airport to receive the shipment, state television reported.
Capucci is the spiritual head of the 3,000-member Melchite Catholic community of Jerusalem, Arab Christians who have formed an Eastern Rite branch of the Roman Catholic Church.