Iraqi, US officials say RP set bad precedent

Sovereign decisions

BAGHDAD -- The decision by the Philippine government to pull all its troops out of Iraq in exchange for the life of Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz sets a "bad precedent" and may encourage more kidnapping, Iraq's foreign minister and a top US official warned.

Manila's move was strongly criticized as the last members of the tiny Philippine contingent of policemen and soldiers prepared to leave Iraq by Monday.

"We respect the Philippine government's decision, but this came in response to demands from terrorist gangs," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday at a joint news conference with visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

"This, in my view and the view of the Iraqi government, has set a bad precedent and sends the wrong messages. Terrorists won't be rewarded otherwise this will repeat itself," Zebari said.

In accordance with the demands of Iraqi terrorists holding De la Cruz, the Philippine government advanced the pullout of its contingent from Aug. 20 to save the life of the truck driver. The kidnappers had threatened to behead De la Cruz unless Manila recalled the contingent a month ahead of schedule.

Zebari's words were echoed by Armitage, who was on a lightning 24-hour trip to Iraq. But Armitage insisted the pullout of the Philippine contingent would not affect relations between Washington and Manila.

"We too very much regret the decision of the Philippine government for the same reason as my esteemed colleague has outlined," Armitage said.

"We have had differences of opinion before. We will have them again. That is what it means to be a sovereign government. They make sovereign decisions and we may not like it but we must respect it."

The Philippine government had ignored criticisms from the United States and other countries, saying its actions were consistent with its national interest.

Analysts said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who began a six-year term less than three weeks ago after a bitterly disputed May 10 election, feared massive street protests that could topple her if De la Cruz was executed. Until the crisis erupted early this month, the Arroyo administration was hailed as one of the staunchest Asian backers of the US-led coalition in Iraq and the global war on terror.


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