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American, Others Snatched In Iraq

An American and three other foreigners were kidnapped Monday from their office in western Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. An Iraqi guard and one attacker were killed in a gunfight during the abduction, a police lieutenant said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said the other kidnap victims included an Asian and two Arabs but he did not know their nationalities. U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callahan confirmed that the fourth victim was an American.

Abdul-Rahman said the victims were believed to be working for a Saudi company but he had no further details. U.S. troops sealed off the street in the Mutanabi area of the upscale Mansour district.

Police Lt. Ali Hussein said the attack occurred about 5:30 p.m. during the iftar meal when Muslims break their daylong fast in Ramadan. He said the gunmen attacked with semiautomatic rifles, triggering a gunbattle with guards that resulted in the deaths.

Twelve Americans have been kidnapped or are missing in Iraq. At least three of them have been killed — all beheaded in abductions claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In September, militants kidnapped two Americans and a Briton from their home in Mansour. All three were later beheaded.

In other developments:

  • U.S. troops clashed Monday with Sunni insurgents west of the capital and gunmen assassinated Baghdad's deputy governor as fresh American soldiers arrived in the capital.
  • U.S. military strength in Iraq has risen to its highest level since the summer of 2003.
  • One U.S. Marine was killed and four others wounded Sunday when a bomb exploded in Ramadi, one of the leading insurgent strongholds. There were no other details available. As of Sunday, at least 1,120 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq.
  • An Iraqi freelance television cameraman who provided material to Associated Press Television News and others was killed Monday while filming skirmishes between U.S. Marines and Iraqi insurgents in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
  • American artillery Monday pounded suspected insurgent positions in Fallujah, witnesses said. U.S. forces are gearing up for an offensive in Fallujah and other Sunni strongholds if Iraqi mediation fails to win agreement to hand over foreign Arab fighters and other militants.
  • Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, warned on Sunday that efforts to resolve the standoff in Fallujah peacefully have entered their "final phase" and that his patience is running short before launching "a military solution" to Sunni insurgents' hold over the city.
  • But Iraq's Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer was quoted as saying that a military assault is the wrong way to end the insurgency in Fallujah. Sunni clerics have threatened to call for a nationwide civil disobedience campaign and to boycott national elections in January if the Americans attack Fallujah.

    More than 160 foreigners have been abducted this year by militants with political demands or by criminals seeking ransom. At least 33 captives have been killed.

    The latest abduction came two days after authorities found the decapitated body of another hostage, 24-year-old Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda. Al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group said it had kidnapped Koda and demanded a withdrawal of Japanese troops from the country.

    Koda's body was found Saturday, wrapped in an American flag and dumped on a Baghdad street.

    U.S. and Iraqi officials hope to curb the insurgency in time for national elections by the end of January. Voter registration for the January balloting began Monday.

    In order to provide enough security for the voting, Army units slated to depart are being held back until after the election. The delays in departures and the arrival of new units will push the total U.S. military presence in Iraq to around 142,000.

    At Camp Victory North, the sprawling headquarters of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, the mess hall and housing trailers were brimming to capacity with the arrival of the 3,700-member Louisiana-based 256th Enhanced Separate Brigade, a National Guard unit that has been rolling into the Iraqi capital the past few days.

    The arrival of the 256th was supposed to have been timed with the departure of the 1st Cavalry's 2nd Brigade, which was scheduled to prepare to return to Fort Hood, Texas, in November. But the Pentagon delayed the 2nd Brigade's departure by two months, military officials said.

    In a speech that seemed aimed at preparing the Iraqi public for an onslaught, Allawi warned of civilian casualties, saying that if he orders an assault, it would be with a "heavy heart," because "there will be some loss of innocent lives."

    "But I owe, owe it to the Iraqi people to defend them from the violence and the terrorists and insurgents," he said.

    U.S. officials say the final order for an all-out attack on Fallujah will come from Allawi. Commanders have estimated that up to 5,000 Islamic militants, Saddam Hussein loyalists and common criminals are holed up there.

    The rumble of strong but distant explosions echoed through central Baghdad throughout the day Monday and the roar of U.S. jets could be heard in the overcast skies.

    The deputy governor of Baghdad province, Hatim Kamil, was killed when gunmen opened fire on his car in the southern Doura neighborhood, Iraqi authorities said. Two of his bodyguards were also wounded in the attack, officials said.

    Insurgents have killed dozens of Iraqi politicians and government workers in recent months in a bid to destabilize the country's reconstruction.

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