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Journalist Abducted In Iraq

There is no confirmation yet, but according to the Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera, a journalist with citizenship in both the U.S. and France has been kidnapped in France.

The man was kidnapped along with his Iraqi translator in Nasiriyah on Friday, said Adnan al-Shoraify, deputy governor Dhi Qar province. He said the translator's family had first reported the two missing.

Al-Shoraify identified the foreigner as a journalist, but said he worked for an organization that was funding a project to provide security to antiquities near Nasiriyah.

CBS News Correspondent Barry Peterson reports the person who was abducted is a New York-based filmmaker whose speciality is archeology.

A spokesman for Italian forces deployed in Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, could not confirm the report. A spokesman for the U.S Embassy in Baghdad, Bob Callahan, said he had not heard of the kidnapping and had no information.

If true, the reported abduction happened on the same day that

Militants in the southern Iraqi city of Basra kidnapped British journalist James Brandon on Friday. They had threatened to kill the 23-year-old, but released him after aides to militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demanded he be freed. Brandon works for the Sunday Telegraph.

In other recent developments:

  • U.S. tanks and troops rolled back into the center of Najaf on Sunday to confront Shiite militants, sparking gunfights and explosions in a new wave of battles in this holy city after the collapse of cease-fire talks.
  • A roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in Baghdad Sunday. At least 931 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq since March 2003.
  • In Fallujah, U.S. warplanes bombed three neighborhoods Sunday afternoon, killing five civilians and wounding six others.
  • A Ukrainian patrol commander, Capt. Yuriy Ivanov, was killed in a land mine explosion near Suwayrah.
  • In Rumaythah, a Dutch military policeman was killed and five others seriously wounded during violence Saturday. In a separate incident in Rumaythah, al-Sadr militants fought with police in a battle that killed two people, including one policeman.

    The renewed fighting in Najaf cast a pall over Sunday's opening of the National Conference, a gathering of more than 1,000 delegates from across Iraq seen as a key step toward democracy in the country.

    Hours after the conference opened, insurgents fired a barrage of mortars that hit a commuter bus station in central Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 17 others, according to the Health Ministry.

    The barrage apparently targeted the capital's Green Zone, the heavily protected neighborhood where the conference is taking place but instead hit the station, which was left littered with glass, shrapnel and blood.

    The National Conference aims to give a broader spectrum of Iraqis a voice in the political process and increase the legitimacy of the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, which is deeply dependent on American troops and money even after the end of the U.S. occupation.

    But the failure to put an end to an uprising in the south by followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr - along with the continued Sunni-led insurgency elsewhere - threatens to undermine the conference.

    For Iraq's interim government, says CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen, the Najaf powderkeg is a clear challenge to power. Lose this one and, as one observer put it, "They will rule little more than Baghdad."

    Dozens of explosions from tank shells and mortars as well as constant small arms fire shook Najaf's vast cemetery, where fighters from al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militias have been battling U.S. troops amid the tombs since the violence first broke out here Aug. 5.

    U.S. troops rolled into the area around Najaf's Old City, the Mahdi Army's stronghold, in the morning hours. The new fighting ended the quiet that the city had seen since Friday as truce talks were underway.

    An explosion, believed to be from a tank round, landed near the outer wall of the compound housing the revered Imam Ali Shrine, the militants' informal headquarters and Iraq's holiest Shiite site, said al-Sadr aide Ahmed al-Shaibany. "The shrine was not hit," he said.

    Any damage to the shrine itself would further enrage Iraq's Shiite majority, already angry at the fighting here, and swell anger at Allawi's government.

    Three days of negotiations to end the standoff fell apart Saturday, when government negotiators called the talks fruitless. Al-Sadr representatives said the sides had agreed on a cease-fire deal before Allawi personally intervened to quash it.

    In Baghdad, about 1,300 religious, political and civic leaders gathered for the unprecedented three-day meeting to discuss political issues and help choose a 100-member national council meant to serve as a watchdog over the country's interim government before elections scheduled for January.

    "This conference is not the end of the road for us, it is the first step ... to open up horizons of dialogue," Allawi told the delegates. "Your blessed gathering here is a challenge to the forces of evil and tyranny that want to destroy this country."

    Some 70 factions are participating in the conference, though several are boycotting it - including al-Sadr's movement. The goal of the gathering is to make Iraqis of all political and religious groups feel they have a voice in the government as the country struggles to enact democratic reforms.

    But the Najaf violence cast a shadow from the start.

    After the opening speeches, Nadim al Jadari, an official with the Shiite Political Council, ran onto the platform and threatened to quit the conference - which would be a painful blow to the government - unless negotiations were restarted to end the fighting.

    In an attempt to assuage the complaints, a working committee was formed to find a peaceful solution to the tension in Najaf.

    As the explosions and gunfire rang out through Najaf on Sunday, police ordered all journalists to leave the city or face arrest.

    The order would mean that the only news coverage of the violence in the holy city would be provided by reporters embedded with the U.S. military. The military had no immediate comment.

    The U.S. military estimates hundreds of insurgents have been killed since the clashes broke, but the militants dispute the figure. Six Americans have been killed, along with about 20 Iraqi officers, it said.

    During the negotiations to end the fighting, al-Sadr demanded a U.S. withdrawal from Najaf, the freeing of all Mahdi Army fighters in detention and amnesty for all the fighters in exchange for disarming his followers and pulling them out of the shrine and Najaf's old city, aides said.

    But on Saturday, Iraq's National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie announced the talks were over and left Najaf

    Late Sunday, Cabinet minister Waeil Abdel-Latif said there would be no compromise with the militants, and he demanded they drop their weapons, get out of the city and transform themselves into a political party to avoid a major offensive against them.

    "We shall give the peaceful way a chance to assure the safety of the civilians, and after that, we shall take another position," he said.

    He also said foreign fighters were among the militants captured in Najaf - a repeated government claim - and he played a video that showed interviews with Iranian, Egyptian and Jordanian fighters and boxes of weapons, reportedly from Iran.

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