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Al Qaeda Threatens Sudan Hostages

Al Qaeda in Iraq threatened on Thursday to kill five kidnapped employees of the Sudanese Embassy in Baghdad in two days unless Khartoum removes its diplomatic mission from Iraq.

The group, which has kidnapped and killed a string of Arab diplomatic personnel this year, said in a statement on a Web forum where al Qaeda in Iraqi frequently posts messages that it had snatched the five Sudanese, who it said included diplomats.

The claim could not be immediately confirmed. It included no photos of the five and did not identify them. The statement did not say when the Sudanese were kidnapped.

Meanwhile, an international team has agreed to review Iraq's parliamentary elections, announcing Thursday that members would travel to Iraq in response to protests by Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups that the polls were tainted by fraud.

The announcement came after the Sunni and secular Shiite groups refused to open discussions with the Shiite religious bloc leading in the elections without a full review of the contested results, despite a U.N. observer's endorsement of the Dec. 15 vote. The official, Craig Jenness, said Wednesday his U.N.-led international election assistance team found the elections to be fair — remarks that represented crucial support for Iraqi election commission officials, who refused opposition demands to step down.

In related developments:

  • Poland's president on Thursday approved extending the country's military mission in Iraq for another year, the prime minister said. "The president made such a decision on the government's request," Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said on TVN24 television during a ski trip at a mountain resort. "The issue is closed and taken care of."
  • Two U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the military said Thursday. Spec. Lance S. Sage, 26, of Hempstead, N.Y., and Pvt. Joshua M. Morberg, 20, of Sparks, Nev., were killed Tuesday when an explosive device detonated near their patrol in Baghdad, the Defense Department said.
  • A Lebanese engineer was abducted Thursday by gunmen, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said. Camile Nassif Tannous, who works for the Schneider engineering firm, was kidnapped "in Iraq in the past few hours," the ministry said in Beirut, giving no further details. There was no immediate claim for Tannous' kidnapping.
  • In violence on Thursday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt on a street near the Interior Ministry, killing four police officers and wounding four others, police said. It was the latest in a series of attacks that have rocked Iraq since the elections, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports, replacing the unofficial cease-fire that kept voters safe while they cast their ballots with a wave of violence aimed specifically at Iraqi officials.
  • Gunmen in Baghdad assassinated an Iraqi driver working with a French company, police Capt. Qassem Hussein said.
  • The chairman of the Joint Chiefs opened a week-long trip to the Middle East with a stop at a military base in Doha, Qatar. General Peter Pace will spend time with troops, and will also meet with many of the generals in charge of stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. That process is considered key to being able to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in any substantial amount.
  • The Sudanese Foreign Ministry reported on Dec. 24 that six of its embassy employees were kidnapped, including a diplomat — the mission's second secretary, Abdel Moneam Mohammad Tom. It was not immediately clear if the al Qaeda statement was referring to the same group.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq set a Saturday deadline for Sudan to "announce clearly that it is cutting its relations" with the Iraqi government and "is closing its embassy in Baghdad as well as withdrawing all of its representatives."

    "Otherwise, this government will bear the responsibility of presenting their diplomats as sacrifices," the statement said.

    The group said it had previously warned Arab nations of its "war against what is called the diplomatic missions in Baghdad," adding that the governments had ignored it, "still getting closer to the infidel Crusaders and Jews."

    Al Qaeda in Iraq has kidnapped and killed a string of Arab diplomats and embassy employees in a campaign to scare Arab governments from setting up full diplomatic missions in Iraq — a step that is seen as a sign of support for the new Iraqi government.

    Militants have kidnapped more than 240 foreigners and killed at least 39 of them during the past two years.

    Thursday, the U.S. welcomed the decision for the International Mission for Iraqi Elections to send two representatives from the Arab League, one member of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians and a respected European academic, the group said Thursday. The independent group said it helped monitor the elections in Baghdad and was "assisted by monitors from countries of the European Union working under IMIE's umbrella."

    The team will travel to Iraq at the invitation of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. An official for the commission, Safwat Rashid, said a review could "evaluate what happened during the elections and what's going on now. We are highly confident that we did our job properly and we have nothing to hide."

    Preliminary results from the vote have given the governing Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, a big lead — but one which still would require forming a coalition with other groups.

    Nasser al-Ani, a senior official in the main Sunni Arab coalition — the Iraqi Accordance Front — told The Associated Press that his political group favored participating in broad-based coalition government, but would not begin contacts "until we get a clear picture about the results of the investigation."

    "We are not taking part in discussions," he said.

    Mehedi al-Hafidh, a senior member of the secular Iraqi National List headed by former Shiite Premier Ayad Allawi, raised similar concerns.

    The invitation to review the process and about 1,500 complaints lodged by candidates and parties was welcomed by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, who said "these experts will be arriving immediately and we are ready to assist them, if needed."

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