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20 Dead In Fierce Mosul Fighting

In northern Iraq, a series of battles between Iraqi authorities and insurgents in the city of Mosul killed 14 civilians and eight insurgents, the U.S. military said.

Iraqi authorities clamped a curfew on the area and sealed off bridges into the city to restore order. The fighting was the fiercest in Mosul in months, and local authorities said insurgents appeared to be testing the police. No Iraqi or coalition forces were killed in the violence, the U.S. military said.

And further south, in an extraordinary assault, gunmen in the city of Fallujah stormed a kidnappers' lair and forced the overmatched militants inside to flee, freeing four Jordanian truck drivers held captive, local officials said Wednesday.

The raid, in a city that has long been hostile to the U.S. military and supportive of Saddam Hussein, marked the first time local gunmen had broken foreign hostages out of captivity. They called the kidnappers "terrorists" and outsiders.

Some militant groups — which commonly attack U.S. and Iraqi forces with bombings and shootings — have turned to kidnapping in recent weeks, snatching poorly protected truckers driving the dangerous route near Fallujah, a hub of the insurgency 40 miles west of Baghdad.

In other developments:

  • The interim government's long-awaited amnesty plan intended to help end the 15-month-old insurgency in Iraq will not cover insurgent fighters who have killed anyone, an official said. It is uncertain when the new law might take effect. "The amnesty covers those Iraqis who have not committed killings, who have been deceived into joining the resistance and who are now convinced that they made a mistake. We welcome them," said Georges Sada, spokesman for Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
  • The United Nations will have to rely on the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq for security for its new envoy in Baghdad because no countries have offered troops for a separate U.N. protection force, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. Annan pulled all U.N. international staff out of Iraq in October following two bombings at U.N. headquarters and a spate of attacks.
  • The international Red Cross says Saddam Hussein has spoken at length with a visiting delegation. He's also said to have written a new message to his family. The team, which included a doctor, met with the former Iraqi president during a routine visit to talk about 100 "high-value detainees" at a prison in Iraq. A spokeswoman declined to comment on Saddam's health. There have been reports he has a chronic prostate infection or has suffered a stroke.
  • In the northern city of Mosul, fierce fighting broke out Wednesday between Iraqi police and militants after dozens of masked men with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenade launchers moved through the streets. Police headed to the area where the gunmen were seen and a gunbattle broke out, witnesses said. Officials say 12 Iraqis have been killed and 26 wounded.
  • Insurgents Tuesday killed seven Iraqi security personnel and the U.S. military said guerrillas killed four Americans. Two other Americans were killed in non-hostile incidents. The U.S. deaths brought at least 919 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq.
  • A truck raced toward an Iraqi checkpoint guarding Kharnabad Bridge north of the city of Baqoubah, officials said. The truck attempted to merge into a U.S. military convoy heading toward the bridge, but a soldier driving one of the vehicles forced it off the road before it detonated, said Maj. Neal O'Brien, a U.S. Army spokesman. No U.S. troops were injured, he said, but four members of the Iraqi National Guard were killed and five others wounded.
  • Appearing on the CBS News Early Show, retired Gen. Tommy Franks — who directed the 2003 invasion of Iraq — said the military didn't know how much resistance to expect after U.S. troops defeated the Iraqis militarily.

    U.S. Marines had pulled back from Fallujah after besieging the city for three weeks in April, leaving it in the hands of the Fallujah Brigade, made up of local residents and insurgents who fought the Marines and are commanded by officers from Saddam's former army.

    The four Jordanian truck drivers were seized last week along a highway near Fallujah, said Ahmad Abu-Jaafar, one of the freed drivers.

    Sheik Haj Ibrahim Jassam, a tribal leader, said he received word late Tuesday that the men were being held in a house on the edge of the city. Local leaders gathered together armed residents, who raided the house, freeing the hostages and chasing out the kidnappers, he said.

    Jassam called the kidnappers "terrorists, who are not from Fallujah."

    The Jordanians insisted their captors were not those who had battled the Marines.

    "The kidnappers have nothing to do with the resistance," Abu-Jaafar told The Associated Press by telephone.

    The four men were taken back to Jassam's house and handed over to Jordanian officials Wednesday, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Ayed said.

    "They are now in a safe place, which we will not disclose," al-Ayed told reporters in Amman, Jordan. He said the four were in "good health" and would arrive home on Thursday.

    The kidnappers made several demands, he said. "We haven't met any of them."

    The men, who had been abducted by a group calling itself "Mujahedeen of Iraq, the Group of Death," were blindfolded and moved to a different house every two days during their ordeal, Mohammed Khleifat, a freed hostage, told The Associated Press.

    "We couldn't eat the food they gave us. The four of us got sick from the food and the water," he said.

    The hostages heard that a man from the United Arab Emirates had been willing to pay the kidnappers $500,000 ransom, but the raid put an end to that, Khleifat said.

    Insurgents have kidnapped scores of foreign hostages to force foreign companies and coalition troops from Iraq. In an effort to save the hostages, several companies have said they would stop their work here, and last month the Philippines withdrew its 51-member troop contingent to secure the freedom of a Filipino truck driver.

    In a move to show kidnappers that none of the 31 other countries in the coalition would follow suit, the United States issued a statement Wednesday vowing not to make concessions to hostage-takers. Many of the other coalition members were expected to issue similar statements in the coming days, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

    "We are united in our resolve to make no concessions to terrorists," read the statement. "We understand that conceding to terrorists will only endanger all members of the multinational force, as well as other countries who are contributing to Iraqi reconstruction and humanitarian assistance," it said.

    In another hostage crisis, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group freed two Turkish truck drivers, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Wednesday. In a video broadcast on the Al-Jazeera television station Wednesday, the militants said they were freeing the men because their company had promised not to haul any more goods to the U.S. military in Iraq.

    The violence in Mosul, which the U.S. military called a coordinated wave of assaults, began about 11:30 a.m. with a drive-by shooting at the Karama police station. Soon after, an Iraqi police patrol was attacked in southern Mosul, the military said.

    Later, dozens of masked men with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers moved through the streets in the Bab al-Toub section of the city. Police headed to the area and a gunbattle, punctuated by explosions, broke out, witnesses said.

    Other violence in the city included a bomb attack on a U.S. convoy and attacks against the power plant and al-Jumhouri Hospital, the military said in a statement.

    Militants also tried to loot a local bank, said Hazem Jalawi, spokesman for the provincial government. The fighting damaged shops and cars and left debris and rubble strewn throughout the streets.

    Two U.S. bases in Mosul also came under attack, said Capt. Angela Bowman, a U.S. military spokeswoman.

    "What has happened today, destruction by burglars and criminals, this proves that they are not real Iraqis," chief of police, Mohammed Khairy Barhawie, said in a statement distributed by the U.S. military.

    Meanwhile, an Iraqi civilian was killed when a roadside bomb detonated near an Iraqi National Guard patrol in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad Wednesday morning. The guards were unharmed, said Ali Hussein, from Baqouba's General Hospital.

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