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Russia Offers to Evacuate Over 800 from Iraq

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow offered Wednesday to airlift more than 800 Russians and citizens of ex-Soviet states out of Iraq after eight Russian and Ukrainian workers were briefly kidnapped in Baghdad.

But the official Itar-Tass news agency said the scale of the pullout depended on the companies involved, some of which looked hesitant to risk contracts worth an estimated $1 billion.

The Emergencies Ministry said it would send planes on Thursday and Friday to evacuate employees of Russian companies in Iraq -- 553 Russians and 263 citizens from the Commonwealth of Independent States -- via Baghdad and Kuwait.

The move came two days after eight employees of contractor Interenergoservis building a power plant in Baghdad were kidnapped by armed gunmen and spent 19 hours in captivity.

Interenergoservis head, Alexander Rybinsky, said after the ministry's announcement the company remained uncertain over how many of its roughly 300 people in Iraq would leave. Other Russian contractors in Iraq appeared to have similar doubts.

Tass quoted an unnamed source in Moscow as saying the companies would ask staff in Iraq during the day whether they wished to remain or leave.

"If the majority prefer to stay, there will be no evacuation," the source said. "If most specialists decide to leave Iraq, than the entire staff will leave. Russian companies may suffer losses, but human life is more precious."

HARD DECISION

Tuesday, released hostages -- three Russians and five Ukrainians -- said the gunmen freed them after discovering they belonged to a company from Russia, which opposes the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

Many Russian companies hire cheaper workers from other ex-Soviet states for whom a decision to pull out would mean a loss of a stable and relatively well-paid job.

"We see no hostility here," one Russian hostage said in televised comments. "We are not planning to leave."

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Why not everybody just leave Iraq and put it under permenant quarantine. No one can go in and no one can go out. Kind of like Escape From New York.

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Because then the Iraqis will kill each other. We need to get rid of the exremist clerics, set up a democracy, shake some hands and get the hell out of there.

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