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Iraqi Insurgents Kidnap Bishop

A Catholic archbishop in Mosul, Iraq, has been kidnapped, the Vatican said Monday.

It identified the kidnapped man as Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, 66, of the Syrian Catholic Church, one of the branches of the Catholic Church.

"The Holy See deplores in the firmest way such a terrorist act," a Vatican statement said, asking that he be freed immediately.

According to reports from Baghdad, Casmoussa was walking in front of his church in Mosul's eastern neighborhood of Muhandeseen when he was abducted.

The reason for the kidnapping was unclear, but Christians — tens of thousands of whom live in and around Mosul — have been subjected to attacks in the past.

Christians make up just 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. The major Christian groups in Iraq include Chaldean-Assyrians and Armenians. There are small numbers of Catholics.

Officials estimate that as many as 15,000 Iraqi Christians have left the country since August, when four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul were attacked in a coordinated series of car bombings. The attacks killed 12 people and injured 61 others. Another church was bombed in Baghdad in September.

In other violence Monday, insurgents waylaid two Iraqi Shiites in the insurgent stronghold Ramadi and decapitated them in the middle of a public area of the city.

Elsewhere in Ramadi, officials Monday found four bodies — three civilians and one Iraqi soldier. They bore handwritten signs declaring them collaborators, a hospital official said.

A suicide car bomber struck a U.S. military convoy in Ramadi, but there were no reports of casualties, apart from the driver.

Although Ramadi has long been a flashpoint for the insurgency, some of other recent violence has occurred in provinces that U.S. and Iraqi authorities have deemed safe enough to hold the Jan. 30 elections.

Some of the attacks appear aimed at scaring the country's majority Shiites away from the polls.

An increasing number of Iraqis are fleeing the country ahead of the election to avoid the violence, the Washington Post reports.

The two men beheaded in Ramadi were spotted coming from a U.S. base in the center of the city, about 70 miles west of Baghdad and were stopped by gunmen, according to a handwritten statement left on the bodies.

The statement claimed the two men, who were from the Baghdad Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, confessed to spying for the Americans.

"These are the rotten remains of two rejectionists (Shiites) who came to the city of Ramadi to support the occupying enemy," the statement said. "The fate of every agent will be slaughter."

It identified the two as Ahmed Alwan Hussein and Ali Hussein Jassim.

Four other bodies were found earlier in the day in Ramadi, with notes claiming they were collaborators.

Gunmen killed eight Iraqi National Guardsmen Monday at a checkpoint northeast of Baghdad, and eight people died in a suicide car bombing at a police station outside the capital.

In a statement Monday, the top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, predicted violence on election day but said U.S. and Iraqi authorities would do "everything in our power" to ensure that Iraqis can vote in safety.

Shiite politician Salama Khafaji, who survived an ambush Sunday in central Baghdad by gunmen wearing police uniforms, said she canceled campaigning in the south after her staff discovered terrorist checkpoints on major routes.

"What we fear now most is terrorists wearing police uniforms," Khafaji told The Associated Press on Monday. "The uniforms and body armor used by the police are available on the market for anyone to buy."

She said the security situation was so bad she had shelved plans to tour mainly Shiite cities in central and southern Iraq starting Monday.

"We sent people out today to check roads in the area but they have reported back that terrorists have set up some road checkpoints," she said. "Generally I cannot go out and meet people or knock on door to get out the vote like they do in the West."

On Monday, exiled Iraqis began registering to vote in their homeland's first independent election in nearly 50 years. Iraqis can vote abroad in 14 countries, including the United States and Britain, and there is a seven-day registration period ending Jan. 23. Voting will begin Jan. 28 and continue until Jan. 30.

Officials estimate 1.2 million Iraqis are eligible to vote overseas. In Britain, many of the estimated 150,000 Iraqis eligible to vote were confused about the fledgling political process and unsure who to vote for.

Also Monday, the U.S. command said two American soldiers died following a weekend accident when their Humvee flipped over into a canal in western Baghdad.

The slaying of the eight Iraqi National Guardsmen occurred at a checkpoint outside a provincial broadcasting center in Buhriz, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Four other Iraqi soldiers were injured in the attack, said Ali Ahmed, an official at the nearby Baqouba hospital. The area is considered a hotspot of the insurgency.

The suicide attack occurred at a police station in Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad on a main supply route. Eight people were killed and 25 were injured, according to a hospital official. U.S. officials said seven of the dead were police.

In the Shiite holy city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, police dismantled explosives placed in a car, said spokesman Rahman Mshawi. The car was parked about three miles from two of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines in the city.

Late Sunday, a police captain, Shakir Aboud, was killed and another policeman was injured when their car was hit by a roadside bomb in Numaniyah, 85 miles southeast of Baghdad, according to a morgue official in Kut's hospital.

The area around Kut has seen a recent surge in violence. In a separate attack, two Iraqi provincial government auditors were shot to death late Sunday after armed gunmen stopped their car in Suwaira, about 25 miles southeast of Baghdad, an official at a Kut hospital said.

Suwaira and Kut lie along a main road southeast of Baghdad that, until recently, had served as a safer alternate route for Iraqis traveling from the capital to mostly Shiite southern Iraq.

The main road south had earlier been hit with violent attacks and kidnappings in an area dubbed the "triangle of death." Gangs of Sunni Muslim extremists had been targeting foreigners, government officials, security personnel and Shiite Muslims on the main highway.

On Sunday, a total of 17 people were killed in attacks in the Suwaira and Kut area, including three Iraqi policemen and three Iraqi National Guardsmen. As mourners gathered for the policemen's funeral, a suicide bomber killed another seven people — all civilians — and himself.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have classified Kut as among the areas that are secure enough to hold elections.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have insisted the elections will go ahead as scheduled. Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer said if the elections were postponed for six months, there was no guarantee the violence would wane. The insurgents "might lay down for two or three months, then carry out attacks again," he said.

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