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More soldiers leave, despite US displeasure

Most nations intend to stay

BAGHDAD -- The Philippines withdrew 11 more soldiers from Iraq yesterday to meet the demands of kidnappers holding a truck driver hostage, ignoring warnings from Washington that the move sends the wrong signal to terrorists.

The decision by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to pull out Philippine peacekeepers from Iraq outraged US allies in the war on terror, who fear that bargaining for the life of Angelo dela Cruz will set a dangerous precedent.

The 51-member Filipino contingent had been scaled back to 43 in recent days. An additional 11 Filipinos -- the head of the humanitarian mission and 10 other soldiers -- drove over the border into Kuwait yesterday in three vehicles and were seen off by US troops, said Lieutenant Colonel Hashem Abdullah, an Iraqi officer at the border town of Safwan.

Meanwhile, American troops and their Iraqi allies in the capital, Baghdad, continued to face attacks. Insurgents detonated a car bomb targeting a US military convoy in Baghdad, wounding one US soldier and four civilians, the US command and Iraqi police said.

Also, attackers fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at an Iraqi police patrol, killing one and wounding another, police officer Ammar Naji said.

Despite the ferocity and number of attacks in recent days, most coalition countries said this week they are standing firm.

El Salvador's legislature approved an extension late Thursday of its 380 troops in Iraq. Italy, whose contingent of 3,000 troops is the third- largest in Iraq, has no plans to pull out. Neither does Poland, with 2,500 soldiers; Romania, with 730 infantry and military police; Denmark, with 500 troops; Hungary, with 300; nor the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with about 100 each.

Bulgaria, which has 480 troops in Iraq and isworking desperately to win the freedom of a captive Bulgarian truck driver, reiterated its determination yesterday to remain, despite calls by lawmakers and other groups to pull out.

Arroyo had faced overwhelming pressure from the public at home, where many have relatives working abroad.

People held prayer vigils yesterday for the safe return of dela Cruz, who was taken hostage while working as a truck driver.

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