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Nevada woman to visit hostage husband

A Nevada woman, distraught over the stalemate in the Persian Gulf crisis, has obtained permission from the Iraqi government to fly to Baghdad today to visit her husband, who is being held as a hostage there. The visit by Kim Edwards, 34, is the first by an American family member and comes despite U.S. government concerns about direct family negotiations with the Saddam Hussein government that might lead to further manipulation of the hostage issue.

"People say you're playing into Saddam Hussein's hands," Mrs. Edwards, a Carson City homemaker, said Friday. "But I'm going strictly as a humanitarian effort. I need my husband. Our children need him."

Mrs. Edwards said she showed up uninvited at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington last week, and a day later was granted an audience with Ambassador Mohammed al-Mashat. She said he issued her a visa on the spot.

The envoy also assured her of an unimpeded return trip home, but was non-committal about the prospects of Edwards' husband gaining his freedom, Edwards said.

Her husband, Tony Edwards, is a 52-year-old urban planner. They and their three children, aged 6, 4, and 2, moved to Baghdad in March 1989. Earlier this year, Kim Edwards brought their children back to the United States for a long visit, in part because she was recovering from an illness.

Mrs. Edwards said she was taking with her letters from four other American women to their hostage husbands, adding that they and many others also would be interested in going if she has a satisfactory journey. Several of these woman also have been issued visas.

"We don't encourage such trips," a State Department official said when asked about Mrs. Edwards' trip. "We don't try to stop them either because we don't have a right to do that. We certainly inform people that we have a travel advisory in effect covering Iraq. We advise people that it is not safe to go to Iraq."

Iraqi officials in recent weeks have met with a number of Western delegations in Baghdad and indicated they will consider releasing hostages for nations willing to discuss Iraq's demands. Sessions between delegation representatives and a smiling, handshaking Hussein are generally filmed by Iraqi television and then released to media.

Those meeting with Hussein recently included former British Prime Minister Edward Heath and representatives of Fellowship for Reconciliation.

Saddam Hussein has also said Iraq will release more than 300 French citizens who have been held since Aug. 2 _ a move widely seen as a blatant attempt to drive a wedge into the international alliance against Iraq. But France has said no deal was struck with Hussein to win their freedom.

Mrs. Edwards said she had talked with her husband twice a week by telephone since the invasion. "He's working for the government there. So he doesn't need to go into hiding. He doesn't feel fear. But he's not allowed to leave. He says it's like a big open-air prison," Edwards said.

She said she had been assisted in her arrangements by Coming Home, a private, non-profit organization based in Champaign, Ill., that has been helping hostage families.