by Aaron Glantz
(IPS) KIRKUK -- Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena is free at last. But her release, clouded over by the death of the Italian intelligence agent who freed her from kidnappers, was not.
Unconfirmed reports say that millions were paid to her captors -- up to eight million, according to Italy's Agriculture Minister Gianni Alemanno.
Sgrena, who reported extensively on the plight of Iraqi people under U.S. occupation, ran a gauntlet of deadly American gunfire as she was being driven to a waiting plane to return to Italy, allegedly after ransom was paid for her release. She maintains she was specifically targeted by the U.S. military.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini have questioned the U.S. Army version of events.
Western officials regularly deny that ransom is paid for the release of a hostage.
Meanwhile, French journalist Florence Aubenas remains in the custody of her kidnappers. Observers believe her case -- like several other kidnappings in Iraq -- will be solved with money.
Little is known about the whereabouts of the veteran foreign correspondent. The journalist for the left-leaning 'Liberation' was kidnapped along with her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi. They were last seen leaving their Baghdad hotel in January.
She was held captive for eight weeks before a video appeared March 1. In the video she appeals to a French member of parliament for help.
"I ask especially for Mr. Didier Julia to help me. Please, Mr. Julia, it's urgent, help me," she pleaded. She appeared gaunt and spoke of deteriorating health.
A member of President Jacques Chirac's conservative ruling party, Didier Julia is known for his contacts with Syria and the former Ba'athist regime in Iraq. After Sgrena's release over the weekend, Julia issued a fresh appeal to the kidnappers of Florence Aubenas, asking them to free her as soon as possible. Like Sgrena, Aubenas focused her reporting on the plight of the Iraqi people.
"Florence Aubenas was apparently kidnapped by a mafia group," Vincent Brossel, a researcher for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders told IPS. "Now she is supposed to be transferred to a group with a political background."
Transferring Aubenas to such a group would increase her chances of safe release since France maintains no troops in Iraq. But Borosell believes Aubenas will eventually be released for money.
"Now it's a business," Brossel says of hostage-taking. "Some groups understand that a European or an American businessman or a journalist is a very expensive product in the sense that they can get millions of dollars in ransom."
Ransom is almost always paid in the case of Iraqis who are kidnapped. Since the beginning of the occupation, the number of Iraqs kidnapped for ransom has skyrocketed. With unemployment high and law enforcement weak, ransom was seen as an easy way to make money.
"A neighbor of ours was kidnapped," 22-year-old nurse Taleibet Tamrir told IPS last April. "Her car was stopped and the kidnappers got in the car. She is an old woman who wears the veil. We still don't know where she is."
In Taleibet's neighborhood kidnappings had become so common that the same day she said someone tried to kidnap a woman walking along the river bank. "She screamed, and her captors let her go. She was lucky, she could have been killed."
Like her co-workers, Taleibat Tamrir became afraid to go to work. "Before the war, I would come on my own, but now my father drives me to work in the morning and home in the afternoon. Otherwise I don't go out."
Even powerful Iraqis are not immune from the threat. "Before the Eid holiday (in January), they kidnapped my brother," Sheikh Nife al-Jabori told IPS. His tribe is strong in north-western Iraq in the so-called Sunni Triangle. Sheikh Jabori says his brother was held for two weeks, and then released after a ransom payment.
"We had to do everything to save his life," the Sheikh said. "First, we told the kidnappers that if anything happened to my brother, we would attack the families of the terrorists. Then, when they responded, we went to the next stage and we paid them, and he was released."
Like most Iraqis, Sheikh Jabori has little respect for a kidnapper. "Because he takes money, he is not fighting a jihad."
March 9, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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