An American hostage pleaded for his life with a rifle pointed at his head in a video released Tuesday. His wife begged President Bush for his release. Meanwhile, eight Iraqis died in fierce clashes and gunmen assassinated a senior judge in slayings highlighting security risks ahead of this weekend's elections.
Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi also said the time was not right to talk of a U.S. troop withdrawal and that Iraq must first build up its security forces to confront insurgents.
In the video, hostage Roy Hallums spoke slowly, rubbing his hands as he sat with the barrel of the rifle inches from his head. He said he had been arrested by a "resistance group" because "I have worked with American forces." He appealed to Arab leaders, including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, to act to save his life.
Hallums, 56, was seized Nov. 1 along with Filipino Robert Tarongoy during an armed assault on their compound in Baghdad's Mansour district. The two were working for a Saudi company that does catering for the Iraqi army. The Filipino was not shown.
"I am please asking for help because my life is in danger because it's been proved I worked for American forces," the bearded Hallums said. "I'm not asking for any help from President Bush because I know of his selfishness and unconcern for those who've been pushed into this hellhole."
But his ex-wife, Susan Hallums, says she believes he was forced to say those things. Hallums, a resident of Corona, Calif., says the father of her children is "an American hero" who "never hurt anybody" and "needs our help."
Roy and Susan Hallums have two daughters. CBS's Jennifer Donelan reports that, upon watching the video of her ex-husband, Susan Hallums said, "He looks like he's lost weight. That terrible gun to head. It's horrible."
In other developments:
Fighting erupted Tuesday in Baghdad's eastern Rashad neighborhood as police fired on insurgents who were handing out leaflets warning people not to vote in Sunday's national elections.
About the same time nearby, insurgents opened fire on police who were checking a report of a possible car bomb.
Another bomb blew off the gate of a secondary school in the neighborhood and gunmen opened fire on Iraqi and U.S. forces responding to the blast.
In all, three policemen were killed and nine were wounded in the clashes, according to an official at Kindi Hospital. Two insurgents died and a shopkeeper also was killed in the crossfire. Earlier, officials reported 11 policemen were killed and offered no explanation for the revised toll.
Officials have warned of a surge in violence around the elections, which insurgents have vowed to disrupt.
The slain judge was identified as Qais Hashim Shameri, secretary general of the judges council in the Justice Ministry. Assailants sprayed his car with bullets in an attack that also wounded the judge's driver.
Assailants also shot and killed a man who worked for a district council in western Baghdad as he was on his way to work, police said.
In a third ambush, gunmen firing from a speeding car wounded three staffers from the Communications Ministry as they were going to work, police Lt. Iyman Abdul-Hamid said. The three workers, one of them a woman with serious injuries, were rushed to a hospital.
Attackers also shot and killed the son of an Iraqi translator working with U.S. troops, police said.
Allawi said U.S. troops could not be withdrawn until Iraq builds up its security forces.
"Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces," Allawi told reporters. "I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people."
"I will not set final dates" for the withdrawal of international forces "because setting final dates will be futile and dangerous," Allawi said.
Allawi promised to "build a strong Iraqi security force" that will be able to take responsibility for protecting Iraqis who participate in the election.
There has been speculation that the new Iraqi government to be chosen after the weekend elections might ask the Americans to begin negotiations for their departure from the country — as demanded by Sunni Arab insurgents as well as members of the Sunni clergy.
However, none of the major political figures contesting the election has publicly called for such a step.