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Germans in Iraq: "Everyone Knows the Risks"

Anja Kueppers (jen)December 2, 2005

As the family of kidnapped German archeologist Susanne Osthoff pleaded for her life, a German working in Iraq took stock of the situation.

Osthoff's sister and mother pleaded for the kidnapped woman's lifeImage: dpa - Bildfunk

Fears for the safety of German archeologist Susanne Osthoff, who was taken hostage in Iraq last Friday, are growing. German authorities are working around the clock to secure her release. But Chancellor Angela Merkel said the federal government still doesn't know the motives or background behind the kidnapping.

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel gibt eine Erklärung zur Geiselnahme der deutschen Archäologin Susanne Osthoff im Irak im Bundeskanzleramt in Berlin
Chancellor Merkel giving a public statement on the kidnappingImage: AP

On Thursday night, Osthoff's mother and sister broadcast a plea for the kidnappers to spare Osthoff's life, reminding them that their captive is a Muslim convert with a young child. The message was shown on Germany's ZDF television, and is also to be carried on Al-Jazeera.

Expats take stock

The number of German citizens currently working in Iraq is relatively small. One of these is Alexander Christoph, who works for Architects for People in Need, a non-governmental organisation based in Munich.

"Of course, we all know each other," Christoph said. "There aren't many Germans here in Iraq, but we do often run into one another."

Entführte Deutsche Susanne Osthoff
Osthoff's activities won her a prize for civil courageImage: dpa

According to Christoph, the initial shock of Osthoff's abduction, seven days ago, has passed. Now he and his colleagues at other NGOs have to assess how the kidnapping will affect their work.

"There are always consequences, because the donors, the governments, the EU or the UN only provide funding if we can prove our project will be successful," he said. "One of the key criteria is the safety and security of staff members, so I expect we're going to have a hard time getting funding for next year. That could be disastrous for our projects, which aim to help the nation rebuild."

Planned political act?

According to Christoph, the abduction of Susanne Osthoff can be interpreted as a planned political act -- regardless of whether the kidnapper's demand that Germany should cut ties with the Iraqi government is real, or if it is just a front for a ransom demand.

"Clearly, a strategy has been developed," he said. "The method of the kidnapping, the way the video tape was forwarded to German television so quickly ... Everything points to a well planned operation. When it comes to kidnappings in Iraq, I don't believe in coincidences."

Entführte Deutsche Susanne Osthoff
In 2003, Osthoff sent aid packages to Iraq from GermanyImage: dpa

While Osthoff's kidnapping may work as a deterrent to some German citizens who want to work in Iraq, Alexander Christoph said his mind is made up. He won't allow fear prevent him from continuing his work:

"Everyone who works in Iraq knows the risks," he said. "Everyone has to decide whether or not they're prepared to accept them, because we all know that Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. If you really want to see things change in Iraq, then foreigners have to be on the ground. That means Germans too."