Iraqi police stormed a farm north of Baghdad early Thursday and freed at least 17 people who were snatched a day earlier in a mass kidnapping of about 85 workers and family members at the end of a factory shift.
The U.S. military Thursday reported four Marines and a soldier were killed in operations south and west of Baghdad, and an explosion of sectarian and revenge killings in Iraq's third largest city over the past three days claimed 19 lives.
The military said the four Marines were killed Tuesday in insurgency-ridden Anbar province, three of them in a roadside bombing and a fourth in a separate operation. A soldier died Wednesday south of the capital, the military said, giving no further details.
At least 2,512 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.
Nine days into a security crackdown in Baghdad, meanwhile, insurgent and sectarian bloodletting was muted, with no major violent incidents reported by midday.
The freed kidnap victims brought to nearly 50 the number of captives who have been either released by their captors or extricated by police. About 30 of the hostages, mainly women and children, were released shortly after they were taken captive. It is routine in Iraq for women to take their children to work.
In other recent developments:Despite increasing calls to bring them home, there's a chance the number of American troops in Iraq might rise, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He also said America's top commander in Iraq, General George Casey, has to meet with that country's new leaders before Rumsfeld can recommend any troop withdrawals. Currently, there are 127,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman were charged Wednesday with premeditated murder in the shooting death of an Iraqi man who was pulled from his home and shot while U.S. troops hunted for insurgents. They could face the death penalty if convicted. All eight also were charged with kidnapping. Other charges include conspiracy, larceny and providing false official statements. The Pentagon began investigating shortly after an Iraqi man identified as Hashim Ibrahim Awad was killed April 26 in Hamdania, west of Baghdad.Lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi, a Sunni Arab who represented Saddam and his half brother Barzan Ibrahim, was abducted from his home Wednesday morning. His body was found riddled with bullets on a street near the Shiite slum of Sadr City. His widow, Um Laith, was quoted on The New York Times' Web site as saying the attackers wore civilian clothes. She said 20 men burst into their house while the couple and their children were sleeping, and identified themselves as members of an Interior Ministry security brigade.Australian forces in Iraq will be shifting to a more dangerous role that could expose them to combat with insurgents, Prime Minister John Howard said Thursday. In a statement to Parliament, Howard formally set out details of the new deployment of Australian forces that will follow the handover of security responsibility to Iraqi forces in southern Muthana province and the withdrawal of Japanese troops.The speaker of the Russian parliament's upper house reportedly says Thursday that negotiations are being held to secure the release of four Russian Embassy staffers kidnapped in Baghdad. This comes a day after an al Qaeda-led insurgent group said in a Web statement it has decided to kill them after a deadline for meeting its demands passed. The statement did not say whether the decision has been carried out. The Mujahedeen Shura Council said Moscow failed to meet its demands for a full withdrawal of troops from Chechnya and that a 48-hour deadline set in a statement issued Monday had run out. The four embassy workers were abducted on June 3 in an attack on their car in which a fifth Russian was killed.Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants went on an indefinite hunger strike Wednesday to protest the killing of an Iraqi attorney who sits on the defense team, the chief lawyer of the ousted Iraqi leader said. Khamis al-Obeidi, one of Saddam's main lawyers, was shot to death Wednesday after he was abducted from his Baghdad home by men wearing police uniforms. His was the third killing of a member of the former leader's defense team since the trial started some eight months ago.
Relatives of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon, are awaiting the results of DNA tests to definitively determine whether the bodies found in Iraq Monday are those of the missing soldiers. Menchaca and Tucker disappeared Friday during an attack on a checkpoint south of Baghdad, in which another GI was killed. Iraqi officials said Tuesday the Americans were first tortured and then killed in a "barbaric" way. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the U.S. soldiers, and said al-Zarqawi's successor had "slaughtered" them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men were beheaded. President Bush, meeting with European leaders at the EU summit in Vienna, Austria, is urging allies to make good on their pledges of financial assistance for Iraq's reconstruction. A top advisor to the president declined to name the countries that have not yet delivered, but said the president believes that coming up with the money now is crucial to the success of Iraq's new government. The administration says only $3 billion of $13 billion promised has gone to Baghdad.
One kidnap victim, a Shiite Muslim, said he was set free Wednesday night after showing the kidnappers a forged ID card listing him as a Sunni. He said two hostages had been killed trying to escape. The man refused to give his name fearing retribution.
"As we were leaving the factory we were stopped by gunmen. The got on our buses and told us to put our heads down. Then they took us to a poultry farm," the man said.
"One of the gunmen told us to stand in one line and then asked the Sunnis to get out of the line. That's what I did. They asked me to prove that I am a Sunni, so I showed the forged ID and three others did the same. They released us," the man said.
A National Security Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, told The Associated Press that several insurgents holding the kidnap victims were captured during the Thursday morning raid on the farm in the Mishada area, 20 miles north of the capital.
Police operations were continuing in the area, the official said, in a bid to locate the rest of the victims who were taken at the end of the day shift at al-Nasr General Complex, a former military plant that now makes metal doors, windows and pipes.
Sectarian violence has raged in the region and tit-for-tat kidnappings and revenge killings are common, but nothing had been reported on the scale of Wednesday's mass abduction. The al-Nasr plant is between Baghdad and Taji, a predominantly Sunni Arab area.
The killings in Mosul occurred primarily in groups of ones and two, with several of the dead found dumped throughout the city. All the victims died in targeted shooting attacks, Mosul police Capt. Ahmed Khalil told The Associated Press.
About a dozen people were killed in other violence nationwide Wednesday, and an al Qaeda-led insurgent group announced it would execute four Russian hostages who were kidnapped June 3. The Russian Embassy in Baghdad said it had no new information on the fate of the four. A fifth Russian was killed when the men were captured.