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Blair Visits Iraq, 28 Kidnapped
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Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms burst into Red Crescent offices Sunday and kidnapped more than two dozen people at the humanitarian organization in the latest sign of the country's growing lawlessness.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Iraq on his sixth visit since the 2003 invasion, appealed for international support for Iraq's fragile government, saying the bloodshed was being carried out "by the very forces worldwide who are trying to prevent moderation."

Blair and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, discussed preparations by British military units in Basra, the main city in southern Iraq, to turn over security to Iraqi forces. Britain expects to withdraw several thousand troops from Iraq next year, despite concerns that Iraqi forces are not ready to keep order on their own.

"Our task ours, the Americans, the whole of the coalition, the international community and the Iraqis themselves is to make sure that the forces of terrorism don't defeat the will of the people to have a democracy," Blair said.

In the latest violence, gunmen in five pickup trucks pulled up at the office of the Iraqi Red Crescent in downtown Baghdad and abducted 25 employees and three security guards from an adjacent building, police said.

A Red Crescent official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said the gunmen left women behind.

The Red Crescent, which is part of the international Red Cross movement, has around 1,000 staff and some 200,000 volunteers in Iraq. It works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits detainees and tries to provide food, water and medicine to Iraqis.

At least half a dozen mass kidnappings have been carried out in the Iraqi capital this year, possibly by armed groups linked to the sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

(China Daily December 18, 2006)

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