Kim Sengputa: To talk or not to talk: the dilemma of the relatives

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The Independent Online

Peter Moore and his bodyguards were taken hostage by an armed gang in daylight from a government building in a heavily fortified part of Baghdad – an example of the power and reach of gunmen in a society in a state of disintegration.

There was immediate suspicion of official collusion. The kidnappers were wearing police uniforms and reached their targets after passing through a number of military checkpoints. This meant that they were almost certainly Shias, as it would have been extremely difficult for Sunni insurgents to negotiate such a route past Shia-dominated security forces with the two sides engaged in a savage sectarian civil war at the time.

Attention focused on the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army which, at the time, was involved in fighting with British forces in the south of the country, and that was the reason – it was believed – that UK citizens had been targeted.

The Shia dimension, however, was a source of hope that Mr Moore and his colleagues could be freed unharmed through negotiations. One of the few perceived "rules" in the anarchy of Iraq was that if a foreigner ended up in the hands of Sunni militants there was a real risk of execution. The Shias, on the other hand, were not known for murdering foreign hostages.

The thinking then was that it would only be a matter of time before Shia prisoners taken by the British would be released in return for the five men being freed. There was a request from the Foreign Office to the British media to withhold the hostages' identities and most abided by this.

Many of the families of the kidnapped have continued to maintain public silence on the issue. It is not clear, however, whether this is at the request of the Foreign Office or GardaWorld, the security company which employed Mr Moore's bodyguards. The abductors have released videos of the hostages and there have been claims that one has committed suicide.

The hostages remain in the hands of the militias and the SAS, which had led the hunt for them, has been withdrawn to fight another front in the "War on Terror". With the second anniversary of the kidnappings coming up questions are bound to be asked about the UK Government's so far unsuccessful attempts to secure freedom for five of its forgotten citizens.