"There is no way to give to terrorists what they want. It was regrettable that the Philippines [did so]," Allawi said on Saturday during a visit to Syria, referring to the Arroyo government's decision to withdraw its humanitarian force from Iraq to save the life of a Filipino hostage.

Muhammad Mamduh Hilmi was seized in Baghdad after prayers on Friday by a group calling itself Lions of God and Lions of Islam Brigades in Iraq.

The capture has been in response to comments by Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif that Egypt is ready to offer its security experience to the interim Iraqi government, a videotape aired on Aljazeera channel said.

The Egyptian government has since clarified it is "absolutely not considering" deploying troops in Iraq.

Ongoing crises

From Damascus, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi said: "Now it is time for us to close ranks, all the civilised societies, all peace-loving societies ... to fight terrorism."

Iraqi officials recently met their
Egyptian counterparts

However, on the ground civilians continue to be taken captive by armed groups opposed to his interim government.

On Saturday, the head of Iraq's al-Mansur Construction
Company, a state-owned firm, was seized as he drove to work in Baghdad, also Raad Adnan Mahmud, a director-general of Iraq's Housing and Construction Ministry.

In yet another case, a group which has threatened to execute seven captives - three Indians, three Kenyans and one Egyptian - issued a new 48-hour deadline via a video aired on Aljazeera on Friday, to their Kuwaiti employers and demanded Iraqi prisoners should be freed from Kuwaiti and US jails.

 

The Kuwaiti company has been asked to pay compensation to the families of the dead in Falluja by the captors.

 

Working closely


Meanwhile, the Iraqi caretaker government has said it is
working closely with the Egyptian mission in Baghdad to broker the release of diplomat Hilmi.

"The government is working hard to get the release of the hostages. It is in constant contact with the Egyptian embassy," Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati said in the Iraqi capital on Saturday.

"Egypt is absolutely not considering sending Egyptian forces or soldiers to Iraq"

Ahmad Abu al-Ghait,
Egyptian Foreign Minister

"The government has had several meetings today to discuss the crisis," he said, adding that the interim government "strongly deplores" the trend, which aims only to derail the country's stabilisation.

On Friday Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait said Egypt "is absolutely not considering sending Egyptian forces or soldiers to Iraq".

  

He said Qutb had been working to help "build brotherly relations linking the peoples of Iraq and Egypt".

  

Qutb was the third most senior official at the Egyptian mission in the Iraqi capital.

 

Masked men

 

In the tape aired on Aljazeera the captors said the Egyptian embassy should not cooperate with US forces. Instead, it should help the Iraqi people in rebuilding the conflict-ridden country.

Qutb was shown sitting in front of six masked men in black, at least one armed with a gun.

The fate of seven truck drivers
continues to hang in the balance

Dozens of foreigners have been seized since April to press demands for occupation troops to leave Iraq, to deter foreigners from working with US occupation forces or to extract ransoms.

  

Egypt, Kenya and India are not part of the US-led occupation forces in Iraq, but many of their nationals work as drivers and contractors.

   

Many captives have been freed, including an Egyptian released on Monday after the Saudi Arabian firm he worked for agreed to his captors' demands that it should close its offices in Iraq.

   

On Tuesday a Filipino truck driver was set free a day after the Philippine government withdrew its troops in response to demands from a group who had threatened to behead him.