| The mother of an Iraqi police officer shot by gunmen at his funeral in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Baghdad, July 25 (Reuters): Two Pakistanis working for a Kuwait-based company were feared kidnapped today as Iraq’s hostage crisis deepened, with at least 22 countries affected by the wave of abductions.
Fighting also raged north of Baghdad, where Iraqi security forces killed 13 suspected insurgents after coming under fire from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades while providing security to US forces during a raid near the town of Baquba.
Pakistan said the two missing nationals, an engineer and a driver believed to be working for the al-Tamimi Group, vanished on Friday as they drove towards Baghdad. “We are trying to find out the details. It is feared they have been kidnapped,” foreign office spokesperson Masood Khan said. “We will try our best to get them released if they are kidnapped.”
But he said Pakistan’s government had not been contacted by any group claiming to have seized them.
He identified the men as Raja Azad Khan and Sajjad Naeem. Both are from Rawalakot district in Pakistani Kashmir, home to another Pakistani, Amjad Hafeez, kidnapped in Iraq last month but later released.
Kausar Parveen, wife of Azad Khan, called for the release of her 49-year-old husband as their eldest daughter wept. “I miss my father very much. I urge the Pakistani government and Iraqi people to help find my father,” said Nazia, 21, with tears rolling down her face.
Over the past 15 months, nationals from nearly two dozen countries have been kidnapped in Iraq, sometimes by criminal gangs, but increasingly by militants seeking to put pressure on governments and foreign companies to pull out of the country.
Parveen said she had had no contact with her husband since Friday. The couple have three daughters and two sons.
In the clashes north of Baghdad, US army Major Neal ’Brien said fighting broke out as US troops raided farms near the town of Buhriz, 60 km north of Baghdad, a hotbed of rebel activity in recent months.
A doctor in Baquba said an Iraqi was killed and nine wounded. ’Brien said fighting lasted nearly an hour and US artillery batteries were used to help suppress mortar fire from insurgents. He said no Iraqi security forces or US soldiers were wounded.
The seizure of the Pakistanis came as a group calling itself al Qaida’s arm in Europe said Italy and Australia, both strong allies of the US, must pull out of Iraq or face attacks at home, while Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi urged nations not to give in to terrorists.
“Australian people, if your government refuses to withdraw ... we will shake the ground beneath your feet ... and columns of rigged cars will not stop,” declared a group calling itself Islamic Tawhid Group, the al Qaida organisation, Europe. “Italian people, we advise you accept our offer and if you refuse you will hear columns of rigged cars shaking your cities,” it said in a statement posted on a website.