Foreign Office says civilians should 'consider leaving' Iraq

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The Foreign Office is advising Britons against "all but the most essential travel" to Iraq as a result of the escalating hostage-takings.

The Foreign Office is advising Britons against "all but the most essential travel" to Iraq as a result of the escalating hostage-takings.

An estimated 1,000 Britons are in Iraq, where 8,700 British troops comprise the most conspicuous military presence after the United States. British civilians are being advised to "consider whether to leave the country." British nationals in Iraq include contractors, aid workers and journalists. There are fears that they could be targeted by Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters as they attempt to use hostages to rid the country of occupying forces.

The British laundry contractor Gary Teeley was freed over the weekend by Italian forces after being held for six days. Michael Bloss, another Briton ,who worked as a security guard, was killed last Thursday in a gun battle while protecting civilian contractors.

Mr Bloss, 38, had warned friends hours before his death that the situation in Iraq was worsening.

The Foreign Office travel advice was updated last Thursday, when three Japanese nationals were abducted by kidnappers threatening to kill them unless Japan withdrew its troops. The Japanese government has refused the kidnappers' demands. Britain and the US have also made it clear that they intend to stay the course despite the mounting risks. Britain's trade and investment office lists almost 50 British firms operating in Iraq - many in communications, engineering or security.

The British engineering services firm Amec is the biggest non-US contractor in Iraq.

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