Foreigners urged to quit Iraq

The warnings, issued by a number of governments as private companies also review their positions in Iraq, came as about 40 hostages from at least 12 countries were being held.

On Tuesday a French journalist became the latest kidnapping victim, while coalition spokesman Dan Senor said the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating the rash of abductions.

However, Mr Senor reiterated there would be no negotiations with kidnappers pressing for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

He said: “We’re making it clear that there will be no negotiations with hostage-takers and… that it is everyone’s interest that these hostages be released as expeditiously as possible.”

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television earlier broadcast videotape of four Italian hostages sitting in a room surrounded by masked and heavily armed militia fighters.

“The Iraqi resistance has detained four Italians and demands the Italian government pull its troops from Iraq,” it reported, three days after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi visited Italian troops in the country.

France has followed Germany in issuing a formal warning urging its citizens to leave, calling the kidnappings “unacceptable”.

The British Foreign Office said it continued to advise against all but the most essential travel to Iraq.

Russia’s biggest contractor in Iraq, Tekhpromexport, is pulling its 370 staff out of Iraq amid security concerns.

Iraqi civil and religious leaders have condemned the kidnappings and called for the hostages to be released but their appeals seem to have had little impact on some militants intent on testing the will of US allies.

The abduction of three Japanese civilians last week has been branded a major crisis for the leadership of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Other governments, including US allies, warned their citizens to keep clear of Iraq.

Most of Washington’s coalition partners insisted military personnel would stay put, but New Zealand said it would bring its 61 army engineers home if the security situation confined them to base for too long.

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