Iraq: Italian Hostages Released

Debris is scattered from a house in Scotland, Ark., Saturday, May 1, 2010, after a tornado struck the area late Friday. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
AP Photo/Danny Johnston
The Arab television network Al-Jazeera announced that two Italian hostages were released Tuesday in Iraq. Italian news reports said Premier Silvio Berlusconi has confirmed the release.

Meanwhile, violence continued across Iraq, with U.S. airstrikes in Fallujah, street battles and blasts in Baghdad, and clashes that killed British troops and Iraqi agents in Basra.

The two Italian aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, were kidnapped in Baghdad on Sept. 7. A Muslim leader from Italy arrived in Baghdad Tuesday and met with a local Muslim association to press for their release.

The two women, both 29, were working for the aid agency "Un Ponte Per ... " ("A Bridge To ... "), and were involved in school and water projects.

Later, another Arab network Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai, confirmed the release. Al-Jazeera said the hand-over of the hostages took place in Baghdad.

  • American forces unleashed a strike Tuesday against a suspected hide-out used by associates of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah. Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi warned that a "decisive military solution" could soon befall the rebel stronghold if a political one is not found.
  • In Samarra, gunmen carrying flags of Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad organization surfaced in force Tuesday for the first time since U.S. troops briefly entered it in a deal brokered with tribal leaders.
  • In Baghdad, American troops and insurgents clashed Tuesday along central Baghdad's Haifa Street, an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said, and half a dozen explosions rocked the city. There was no immediate word on casualties. There was a report of an Iraqi killed in a U.S. strike on Sadr City.
  • Near the southern city of Basra, insurgents attacked a British military convoy, killing two soldiers, the Ministry of Defense in London said. Also in Basra Tuesday, gunmen killed five members of Iraq's intelligence agency as they were returning a civilian freed from kidnappers to his family.
  • In other violence, a car bomb exploded in Ramadi, west of Baghdad as a U.S. military convoy was passing by, damaging one American vehicle. A Turkish truck driver has been killed in an attack near the Iraqi city of Mosul, news reports said Tuesday. Three Iraqis were wounded in an overnight mortar attack on a base housing Bulgarian troops in central Iraq.
  • Egypt said Tuesday that Iraqi kidnappers had freed one Egyptian hostage and were expected to release three others shortly.
  • The U.S. military says it's holding a suspected leader of an Iraqi insurgent cell that has claimed responsibility for the beheading of 12 Nepalese hostages. Authorities have also detained an Iraqi citizen on suspicion of spying for Iran.
  • A Colorado congresswoman, Democrat Diana DeGette, is calling for an investigation into allegations that soldiers, who are near the end of their time in the military, are being threatened with deployment to Iraq unless they re-enlist.
  • Jordan's King Abdullah II said in an interview published Tuesday that elections in Iraq are impossible because of the current chaos. The European Union will support preparations for elections in Iraq even if violence keeps the vote from taking place throughout that country, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair said he realized the war in Iraq had divided Britain, but insisted he could not sincerely apologize for helping topple Saddam Hussein.

    Dozens of masked gunmen carrying automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades drove through the main streets of Samarra, north of Baghdad. They stopped some cars, asking occupants to hand over music tapes in exchange for those with recitations from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

    Samarra has been under insurgent control and a virtual "no-go" area for U.S. troops since May 30.

    The Americans returned briefly Sept. 9 under a peace deal brokered by tribal leaders by which U.S. forces agreed to provide millions of dollars in reconstruction funds in exchange for an end to attacks on American and Iraqi troops.

    The sporadic clashes around Haifa Street in Baghdad began early Tuesday and explosions could be heard around midday in the area, spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said. He said such low-intensity fighting has occurred on the street for the past three days.

    Haifa Street, an insurgent stronghold, has been the scene of bloody car bomb attacks, raids and firefights in past weeks.

    The roadside bomb on Karrada street damaged several vehicles and shattered windows, witnesses said. The target of the attack was not immediately clear. At least six other blasts were later heard in the capital.

    Ambulances rushed to scene of the explosions and American troops cordoned off the area. Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said three civilians were wounded.

    The ministry had no immediate information on the other explosions that rocked the city at noontime.

    In Fallujah, intelligence reports indicated that the militants targeted shortly after 4:00 a.m. were "rising" associates of al-Zarqawi and "planning attacks using foreign suicide bombers in vehicles rigged with explosives," the military said. The Jordanian-born militant has claimed responsibility for scores of suicide attacks and kidnappings across the country, as well as the recent beheading of two Americans

    Late Monday, U.S. warplanes were spotted over the city and explosions were heard. Residents said they saw a plane firing rockets into the city, but U.S. Marine officers said only illumination rounds were fired.

    Dr. Walid Thamer of the Fallujah General Hospital said at least three people were killed and nine wounded in the earlier attack. They arrived at the hospital around 1:00 a.m., he said. The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

    U.S. forces have not patrolled in Fallujah since ending a three-week siege of the city in April that left hundreds dead. Military commanders say an assault may be inevitable to restore authority there ahead of nationwide elections slated for January.

    "I think we waited more than enough for Fallujah," the Iraqi leader said in an interview aired late Monday on the Arab television network Al-Arabiya. He indicated Iraqi security forces would be used in any operation against the city.