HOSTAGES IN IRAQ….I’ve been wondering for a long time when this would happen. One of the militias in Iraq is now holding several Japanese civilians as hostages:

The three civilians were snatched by a group called the Mujahideen Brigades and Arab al-Jazeera TV showed them being held at knife-point.

Elsewhere, two Arab Israelis were also kidnapped, but seven abducted South Korean missionaries were released.

Our Baghdad correspondent says this is the first use of kidnappings for political ends in the conflict.

The gunmen holding the Japanese say they will burn their captives alive unless Japanese troops are withdrawn from Iraq.

We all know the usual drill here ? no negotiation with terrorists, we’ll never back down, etc. ? but there’s really nothing to stop the various militias from taking more and more foreigners as hostages if they want to. No matter how well guarded they are, there are just too many of them.

And what then? Long, tedious parleys? Massive assaults that risk killing both the hostages and our own people if they go wrong? Current mythology to the contrary, Jimmy Carter was well ahead of Ronald Reagan in 1980 until the Iranian hostage crisis dragged on and on and the Desert One fiasco made him look weak and incompetent. The same thing could easily happen here and could have the same effect on George Bush ? who has shown time and time again that reelection is the only thing he truly holds dear. If hostage taking starts doing real damage to him at the polls, I wonder what his reaction will be?

As this BBC video says, “This is the nightmare of every foreign national in Iraq.” Hopefully it will all turn out all right in the end, but what happens if the militia fighters discover that this, rather than endless street fighting, is the real way to damage us politically?