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Germany

Germany Advises Citizens to Leave Iraq

The German foreign ministry issued a warning on Tuesday for its citizens to leave Iraq as the spate of foreign kidnappings continues. At the same time, German aid organizations completed their withdrawal from Iraq.

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About 60 Germans remain in the country.

As unsubstantiated reports are circulating about the possible deaths of the two German security officials abducted in Iraq last Wednesday, the German foreign ministry has advised its citizens to leave Iraq. The warning comes a day after what is thought to be the last group of German humanitarian workers in Iraq were pulled out of the country on Monday.

"German citizens are advised to leave Iraq," the foreign ministry statement warned. "In the face of developments in the region, be advised there is also a high security risk in Kuwait. Because of the situation in Iraq, people are again urgently warned against travel in the neighbouring country."

The statement was issued as unconfirmed reports suggested that the two security agents from the German Embassy in Baghdad who went missing last week when they disappeared during a routine exchange of staff are now dead. The men, said to be members of Germany's elite GSG-9 Special Forces group, were travelling from Baghdad to Jordan when they were ambushed by unknown assailants.

Missing men feared dead

Vermisste Deutsche Tobias Ritrath, 25, and Thomas Haffenker, 38

Tobias Ritrath, 25, and Thomas Haffenker, 38, have been missing since Wednesday.

Since no kidnap claim has been issued, the German foreign ministry concluded that the men, identified in German media reports as Tobias Ritrath, 25, and Thomas Haffenker, 38, may have been killed during the attack near the Sunni town of Falluja, the scene of the recent uprising's most violent escalations.

A reporter for the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper in the city has said he saw the bodies of two Germans in the area while Germany's ARD television reported on Monday that the German embassy in Baghdad had received a videotape showing the corpses of two men which staffers had identified as the missing security officials.

Aid agencies pull out last remaining staff

Sunniten Kämpfer in Falludscha

Sunni insurgents guard in Fallujah.

Meanwhile, German aid organizations evacuated their last four workers from Iraq on Monday due to the deteriorating security situation, a spokesman for "Aktion Deutschland Hilft" told reporters. Wolfgang Nierwetberg of the Bonn-based agency said that the last four members of a 10-person team removing munitions from residential areas left Baghdad on a U.N. aircraft for Amman. "Every foreigner is now being seen as a prime target. The danger has become too high," Nierwetberg said.

Forty-five Iraqi workers assisting the group in its project to clear mines, reopen channels of food distribution and install water purification systems have stayed in place in an attempt to continue the German organization's work in Baghdad.

All German charity workers are now thought to have pulled out of Iraq. Around 60 Germans are thought to remain in the country, most of them either journalists or people with Iraqi partners. Germany has no troops deployed in Iraq.

As the security situation deteriorates further in Iraq, other foreign aid agencies have taken the decision to suspend operations. On Friday, French group Premiere Urgence, one of the few charities still operating in Iraq, also put its work on hold. "Premiere Urgence is alarmed at the chaos into which Iraq has plunged and is provisionally suspending its activities," the organization said in a statement.

Abduction a growing threat

Die japanischen Geiseln im Irak, Noriaki Imai, Nahoko Takato und Soichiro Koriyama

Demonstrator holds a poster with pictures of the Japanese hostages held by militants in Iraq.

The growing unrest has increased the danger of the situation for foreigners in Iraq. Several foreigners have been taken hostage on the dangerous route between Baghdad and Amman which passes by Falluja, where a Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces intensified this week. Fighting has been heavy in Iraq in the past week, and several civilians have either been kidnapped or killed.

There are fears for two Czechs, reportedly television journalists, after a taxi firm told AFP news agency they were abducted en route to Jordan and also for the Japanese hostages who were taken last week and whose fate remains unknown. On Tuesday, at least eight Russian engineers were kidnapped as they relaxed in the courtyard of their house in the Iraqi capital. The men have since been released again, Russian news agency Interfax reported on Tuesday. Seven Chinese men kidnapped on Sunday near Falluja were released on Tuesday.

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