Abductor groups aim at easy targets

If Iraqis were targeted, some suggest, the country would react.
WASHINGTON -- Nothing breeds repetition like "success."
Indeed, with private companies hit by Iraq's wave of kidnappings pulling out, and with insurgents and foreign terrorists in Iraq receiving global attention, no one expects the hostage-taking to end anytime soon.
Already this week, the association of Turkish trucking companies -- whose trucks provide a crucial lifeline for Iraq's tenuous economy -- responded to the videotaped killing of one of its drivers by announcing its members would no longer deliver to American clients in Iraq, including the military. And a Kuwaiti trucking firm announced it would no longer operate in Iraq after one of its Somali drivers was kidnapped.
Yet even if the insurgents and terrorists have found a winning tactic for now, Iraq and its supporters may be able to turn the tide by putting more Iraqis in these risky civilian jobs, some specialists say. Aside from giving the local economy a boost by alleviating unemployment, putting more Iraqis in those jobs could fortify the public against terrorists.
What if ...
Just as the Saudis turned tough when their own civilians were targeted in bombings, Iraqis would be expected to take more than a passing interest in kidnappings if they hit their own people, some experts say. "Normally you would call it a successful tactic if one country or company out of 20 targeted was pulling out, but these guys are doing much better than that. They are doing great," says Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer and Middle East specialist. "But if they start to kidnap Iraqis, then I think we could see things turn quickly -- just as some of their other attacks on Iraqis are starting to backfire."
The fierce, widespread rejection of Sunday's bombings targeting Iraq's small but historic and well-integrated Christian community offers a glimpse of how the country might react if Iraqis were the victims of high-profile hostage-taking, Peters says. "The fact is that the Iraqi people really didn't mind too much when Americans were the ones dying in these kinds of incidents," he says, referring to the gruesome burnings and beheading of American contract workers earlier this year.
U.S. companies looking for subcontracting trucking companies to deliver the goods coming into a rebuilding Iraq have primarily turned to foreign companies in Kuwait and Turkey. Kuwaiti subcontractors employ large numbers of foreign drivers, from Africa and southeast Asia -- some who have complained of being forced to do the dangerous driving in Iraq.
Easy targets
Although Turkey has no troops as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the NATO member country does allow the United States to land at military bases. That, plus the vital commercial link Turkey provides, makes its citizens a key target.
"The people who are going to be most affected by these tactics are those from countries whose governments chose to back the U.S. in Iraq, or to cooperate with it, against popular opinion at home," says Charles Pena, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.
The Turkish population was almost unanimous in opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq and remains overwhelmingly opposed to any cooperation between the United States and the Turkish government in Iraq, polls show.
Pena says the hostage-taking is likely to continue, not just because it is yielding results, but also because American targets are becoming more difficult to hit. "The more the U.S. fortifies itself and reduces its exposure, and the more these civilian targets are exposed, the more the perpetrators are going to pursue the softer targets," he says.
The continuing instability is a reflection of insufficient security forces for the strength of the insurgency and terrorists, some U.S. military and political leaders insist. Yet Iraqi forces are growing and beginning to show some signs of cohesive action in the new Iraq's defense, "and that success will be reinforcing," says Peters.

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