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Missing U.S. Civilians in Iraq Reaches 7

Missing U.S. Civilians in Iraq Reaches 7

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HOUSTON (AP) -- U.S. civilian employees missing in Iraq now total seven, joining a growing number of foreigners from at least 12 countries to be snatched in recent days.

The U.S. military said seven employees of a Halliburton Co. subsidiary and two American soldiers were missing after their convoy was ambushed Friday near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.

Only one, Thomas Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver from Macon, Miss., is known to have been abducted. His captors have threatened to kill and mutilate him unless U.S. troops ended their assault on the city of Fallujah. The deadline passed Sunday with no word on his fate.

"Our work is difficult and in a dangerous environment and we are angered and deeply saddened by this situation," Halliburton Co. said in a statement.

Halliburton declined to identify the six other missing workers or discuss details of the attack in order to protect their privacy, spokeswoman Wendy Hall said Monday. The company said the attacks happened during a routine mission for the U.S. Army Material Command.

Hall did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Dan Senor, a coalition spokesman, said Tuesday that about 40 foreign hostages from 12 countries are being held by Iraqi insurgents, and that the coalition would not negotiate with "terrorists or kidnappers" to gain the hostages' release. He would not comment on efforts to free the captives.

More than 24,000 Kellogg, Brown & Root employees and subcontractors are working in the Kuwait-Iraq region, Hall said. Their duties include extinguishing oil well fires and cleaning oil sites.

In Hamill's hometown of Macon, Ga., American flags went up on the main street as a gesture of support and Mayor Dorothy Baker Hines said the town would keep the lights on all night at some buildings as a reminder.

"It's the least we can do to be patriotic at a time like this and hope he'll be all right and get back home," said resident Kevin Mitchener, who was busy putting up American flags.

Hall said its workers and contractors are aware from the beginning that the work is dangerous, and that employees depend on military protection.

"Not one of our employees leaves the United States for Iraq without thorough and repeated briefings on the dangers in Iraq. In fact, during the training process, we spend most of our time giving recruits all the reasons they should not accept this job," she said.

Halliburton, the firm that Vice President Dick Cheney ran during the 1990s, offered workers $80,000 tax-free for working in Iraq for a year, or up to $120,000 with overtime. However, they are allowed to return home without questions.

Two men who drove trucks for Halliburton until this weekend, Stacy Clark and Stephen Heering, said it was becoming too dangerous in Iraq.

"You have to see it to believe it," Clark, 36, said after reuniting Monday with his wife in Houston.

Heering's truck was blown out from beneath him Thursday, forcing him to make a dangerous escape. He decided to return home.

The sentiment that drove Clark and Heering home is growing among truck drivers in Iraq, said Herring, 33.

"I'm done. I'll never go back," he said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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