RAY SUAREZ: The sight of bound hostages in Iraq on grainy videotape has become an almost daily occurrence. The capture of ten more today was the latest in a series of abductions. Over the past six months, more than 100 foreigners have been taken hostage; 30 of them have been killed by their captors; some two dozen more are still believed held. One of the most brazen was the abduction two weeks ago of two Americans and a Briton from their home in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. The men worked for a private construction firm. The two Americans were murdered. Videotape of Briton Ken Bigley was released yesterday. He's being held by a group with alleged ties to Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Again, Bigley appealed directly to his prime minister.
KEN BIGLEY: Tony Blair, I am begging you for my life. I am begging you for my life.
RAY SUAREZ: The British government has said it won't negotiate with hostage-takers. But some terrorist demands have been accommodated. In July, when kidnappers threatened to kill a Filipino hostage, the Philippine government withdrew its 50-troop contingent from Iraq. And some foreign companies have met hostage-takers' demands, agreeing to stop working in the country after their employees have been captured, or paying ransoms. Amid the celebrations over the recent release of two Italian aid workers after three weeks in captivity, there have been reports the Italian government paid $1 million ransom for the two women's release. Italy's government has denied the claim. Meanwhile, the hundreds of abductions of wealthy and middle-class Iraqis who have been kidnapped for ransom have received much less attention in the world press.
RAY SUAREZ: So what's fueling the surge in kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq, and what are their captors' goals? For that we turn to Bernard Haykel, assistant professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University; and Mark Levine, assistant professor of Middle East history at the University of California at Irvine. He visited Iraq this spring. Professor Levine, kidnapping and holding hostages for ransom has been a feature of both criminal and political activity in parts of Latin America for a long time. Was this a crime that was common in Iraq before the war?
MARK LEVINE: Well, certainly before the war it wasn't common. One of the only good things about the Hussein regime was that as long as you weren't being taken prisoner in or kidnapped by the regime itself it was in many ways a fairly safe place to live. Since the occupation and with the chaos that has come in with the invasion and the occupation it's become much easier for people to kidnap especially foreigners and Iraqis, as the last report showed. And this is something that happens throughout Africa, throughout the former Soviet Union and Latin America, all over the world where chaotic situations ensue from large scale violence. And it's almost impossible to stop. And the complexity of the motivations involved, some religious, some national, some just for money, make it impossible to try to predict what's going to happen next and how to combat it.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Haykel, is it's important to make a distinction between the work of criminal gangs and pure kidnappings for ransom?
BERNARD HAYKEL: I think the real distinction has to be made between the criminal gangs and the groups that are religiously and politically motivated, especially the groups that are linked with al-Qaida and who share al-Qaida's ideology and who are using these kidnappings to propagandize their politics throughout the Muslim world and showing as it were vicariously that they're conducting a war against non-Muslims at a time when Muslims feel themselves to be humiliated all over the place.
RAY SUAREZ: What do we know about the targets? Is there any pattern that emerges when you look at them?
BERNARD HAYKEL: Clearly there are individuals that are highly prized, mainly Americans and Brits. And oftentimes they are if they are kidnapped by the criminal gangs they tend to get sold to the Jihadis, the ones who are showing these gruesome videos on the Internet. And it's important to know that there is this linkage -- that criminal gangs are taking advantage of the chaos in Iraq to make money both from the families of the kidnapped victims, but also from making money from the Jihadis themselves who have quite substantial amounts of money at their disposal.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Levine, has the threat of kidnapping taken its toll, does it have its desired effect, are foreigners clearing out of Iraq?
MARK LEVINE: Well, certainly most foreigners are clearing out of Iraq. I remember when I was there in the spring, as Fallujah the eruption of the revolt in Fallujah was occurring, many, many aid workers were fleeing, in fact one of the two Italian women who was kidnapped who I know, I spoke to her as she was helping many of her colleagues get out of the country. But she refused to leave. And I think there was still a sense in May, even in June where if you were not part of the occupation, you could move around somewhat safely. What's changed over the summer is that the dynamics have changed to the point where there's no way for anyone to feel safe. There's so much weaponry around the country, so many people are involved to see kidnapping as a way to make money, in a context where there are so many young people, young men especially who have no prospects of a job, but who have weapons, who have some military training and who can easily earn a lot more money doing this than they could ever earn doing anything else in today's Iraq. And they don't care why someone there's, they don't care if they're an aid worker, they don't care if they're against the occupation, they just need to get someone that they can sell.
But as Professor Haykel pointed out, the Americans are really the top of the list, and they are being treated the most harshly. You can see the sophistication of the kidnappers because with other nationalities they'll tend to negotiate more, they might be more lenient. But on the other hand we've also seen other videos where local groups, Kurdish groups are actually killing Kurdish people who are working, who are being accused of working with the occupation. So it's a very complicated situation, and it's impossible to know how even to begin to approach if you're living there, I can speak from personal experience, trying to stay alive at this point even.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Haykel, looking specifically at the people who were snatched for political gain, who are the subjects of these videos in some cases who have been beheaded, is there a risk for those who kidnap them of losing sympathy within the region? This has been condemned by various religious leaders; this has been condemned even by people who are perceived to be on their own side.
BERNARD HAYKEL: Absolutely. And I think most Muslims and Arabs are horrified by these acts. But you have to realize that there are always a few people who will be attracted to this kind of theology and this kind of radical political action and especially because, as I said, there's this vicarious element of showing Muslims, doing things to westerners. And this is a way of attracting recruits and it's also a way of making the Jihadi groups much more important. So, for instance, on the Web site where the British hostage, this group it's called Tawhid with Jihad -- this group that kidnapped the two Americans and the Brit, on their Web site, they state very clearly that they wish to open a channel of negotiation with the British prime minister, and that they're willing to release this man if all Iraqi women prisoners are released from the prisons in Iraq.
This is a way also of showing that there is, that they are equals as negotiating partners with the major western powers. And this again boosts their credibility and legitimacy and potency in the Arab and Muslim world, where many regimes are seen just to be lackeys of the West.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Levine, earlier you heard your colleague talk about the collusion between criminals and people who are in this game for more political motives. In other places in the world though we've seen this kind of thing, there's been sort of a cross pollination: Criminals starting to espouse a political line, and political activists becoming nothing more than sort of organized crime gangs. Are we seeing something like that here?
MARK LEVINE: Well, I think that's a very good analogy. I think in Latin America where you have the kidnappings associated say with the Shining Path, or groups in Colombia, you have a combination of narco traffickers, kidnappers and rebels, none of whom necessarily share the same ideology but who are willing to come together for common ends. I think in Iraq you certainly have a similar thing happening. And what that's doing, the most frightening thing about it is how it's radicalizing more and more Iraqis, not that more and more Iraqis are going to join these kind of groups. But as you saw from the horrible explosion today, when the Americans finally do something good, like a water treatment or sewage plant, this thing happens, and it shows that Americans can't even provide security. And it turns more Iraqis against them.
Then this puts the price, if there's any kind of success, the price goes up for taking Americans, you see the religious ideology come together with the nationalist ideology, and with especially the global Jihadi ideology that Professor Haykel has talked about, in a way that whatever destruction is wrought in Iraq really doesn't matter if it helps serve a global end. This becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, a self perpetuating cycle that it's almost impossible to stop as long as the occupation is in place.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Haykel, does this have the consequence, no matter what you think about the occupation, of turning more and more bitterness toward the Americans who are both the victims of this and appear to be unable to stop it at the same time?
BERNARD HAYKEL: Absolutely. I mean, I think that Professor Levine's analysis is totally correct, in that Iraqis increasingly see the impotence of the Americans to control, inability to control the situation on the ground as basically they're good for nothing. And they will turn against the Americans, as I think most now have except for the Kurds it seems -- most of the Kurds that is. And just doesn't bode well for the American occupation or the government that is supported by the Americans for that matter. You know there's a very famous Arab saying that says, you know, something like 40 years of tyranny, not one day of chaos. And this chaos that has been engulfing, that has engulfed Iraq for the last year and a half is just devastating for the prospects of any future American backed government in Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
MARK LEVINE: Thank you very much.
BERNARD HAYKEL: Thank you.