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Opposition to U.S. occupation of Iraq runs hot days before handover

BAGHDAD, Iraq _Violent opposition to the American occupation of Iraq continued Sunday with disclosures of the kidnappings of a U.S. Marine and a Pakistani employee of the American contracting firm Halliburton Inc., and with attacks on the airport and city.

Militants threatened to behead the two captives unless prisoners were released from U.S. custody.

Four people also were killed Sunday, including an American soldier at a military camp and the occupant of a military cargo plane hit by small arms fire as it took off from the main Baghdad airport.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that there appeared to be a "level of coordination" in the widespread attacks spreading across Iraq. "Hopefully, we can penetrate whatever system is operating there," said Powell.

Details of the kidnapping of the Marine were sketchy late Sunday. The news network Al Jazeera reported that members of a "purported Iraqi resistance" group took the Marine hostage.

U.S. Military officials in Baghdad confirmed that Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun has been missing since June 21, but could not confirm that he is being held hostage. Hassoun was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif. No hometown was released, although a statement describes the Marine as being of Lebanese decent.

A man wearing a Marine uniform and Hassoun's nametag was pictured on the videotape aired by Al Jazeera. Military investigators are continuing their inquiry into the disappearance.

Also Sunday, a chilling hostage video surfaced in which militants threatened to behead a Pakistani employee of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root. The insurgents said they would kill the man if American forces didn't release prisoners held at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq within the next three days.

"I'm also Muslim, but despite this they didn't release me," the man said on a video broadcast by Arab language television station Al Arabiya. "They are going to cut the head of any person regardless of whether he is a Muslim or not."

The kidnappings Sunday follow the capture of three Turkish civilians by followers of Islamic militant Abu Musab al Zarqawi. The group threatened to behead them after 72 hours unless Turkish companies stop doing business with American forces in Iraq. The exact deadline is unclear and could come some time on Monday.

The Zarqawi group has claimed credit for the beheadings of Pennsylvanian Nicholas Berg and South Korean Kim Sun-il.

After a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Sunday in Istanbul, where President Bush was attending a NATO summit, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said Turkey would not consider demands from insurgents who took three Turkish hostages.

"Every day 1,500 or 2,000 trucks are going to Iraq and bring medicine food, everything," Gonul said. "These things are humanitarian. It is sad to have Turkish people captured by some forces in Iraq. They like to help the Iraqi people."

As the June 30 date for Iraqi sovereignty approached, insurgents struck elsewhere Sunday, but not with the intensity that many military officials had expected. A rocket attack against a U.S. camp in Baghdad killed the U.S. soldier, and a series of explosions killed two Iraqi children playing along the east bank of the Tigris River, the Interior Ministry said.

Several attacks have been reported over the last year against aircraft departing from or arriving at Baghdad's main airport, but Sunday's attack produced the first known fatality. It came just three days before the military was scheduled to hand control of the sprawling aviation facility to Iraq's civilian government.

The threat of missile and gunfire is the reason the airport remains largely closed to non-military traffic, months after a multi-million-dollar refurbishment of the passenger terminals. The only publicly available civilian passenger service into Baghdad consists of twice-daily flights to and from Amman, Jordan, carrying contractors, government officials and journalists.

An estimated 500 flights a day land at Baghdad's airport, all but 50 of which are military, a senior U.S. military official told reporters earlier this month, speaking on condition of anonymity at a background briefing. Formerly known as Saddam International Airport, the facility is about 10 miles west of Baghdad.

In a statement, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S.-led coalition's deputy director for operations, did not explain what type of weapon was used, how the person was hit, or whether the individual was a passenger or member of the crew.

He said the victim's name was being withheld pending notification of family members.

Kimmitt said the plane was struck at about 5 p.m. local time, and turned back to the airport because the person was wounded. The victim later died.

There have been at least three reported hits against aircraft over the Baghdad airport, and an untold number of attempts. Military aircraft take evasive action when taking off and landing there, and they employ countermeasures designed to ward off missiles.

Also Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who has vowed to crush foreign terrorists operating in Iraq, offered pardons to "those Iraqis who have acted against the occupation out of a sense of desperation," so long as they come forward with information.

In an op-ed article that ran in the Washington Post and London's Independent, Allawi said his government would not compromise with "those foreign terrorist fundamentalists and criminals whose sole objective is to kill and maim innocent people and to see Iraq fail."

But, he said, "we are drawing up plans to provide amnesty to Iraqis who supported the so-called resistance without committing crimes, while isolating the hard-core elements of terrorists and criminals and undercutting their base of support."

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(Knight Ridder correspondent Jonathan Landay in Istanbul contributed to this report. Dilanian reported from Baghdad and Ackerman from Washington.)

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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