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Four killed in attack on Iraqi national guard post

CARE International official kidnapped


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A mortar attack north of Baghdad killed four Iraqi national guardsmen and wounded 80 others Tuesday, while a top official from a prominent charity was kidnapped in the Iraqi capital.

The mortar strike targeted a national guard headquarters, according to an Iraqi Defense Ministry official.

The base is in Atarmia -- a neighborhood more than 18 miles north of Baghdad -- near the city of Taji.

The strike near Taji took place as U.S. and Iraqi forces try to end violence ahead of National Assembly elections scheduled for January. Police stations and national guard posts have been regular targets of insurgents.

The charity official kidnapped Tuesday is Margaret Hassan, chief of operations for CARE International. Hassan has dual Iraqi-British citizenship.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern called "for her immediate and unconditional release."

"Mrs. Hassan is a leading aid worker who has devoted many years to helping the Iraqi people," he said in a written statement.

"Mrs. Hassan was born in Ireland, and members of her family still live in this country. However, Mrs. Hassan is a long-term resident of Iraq and has acquired Iraqi citizenship."

The Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera broadcast video of Hassan sitting in a room. She was talking and appeared anxious.

CARE did not confirm the circumstances of the kidnapping or where in Baghdad it occurred. (Full story)

Elsewhere, in the key insurgent stronghold of Falluja, U.S. forces hammered rebel safe houses and weapons-storage facilities overnight.

Falluja -- 30 miles west of Baghdad in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," a stronghold of the insurgency -- has been the target of near-daily U.S. airstrikes for weeks.

On Thursday, U.S.-led forces stepped up air and ground operations against sites in Falluja linked to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the U.S. military said.

A U.S. military statement said the recent airstrikes on Falluja have killed senior leadership within al-Zarqawi's group, and that the facilities targeted late Monday and early Tuesday were used by "replacements for senior leadership."

U.S. and Iraqi forces are passing out "most-wanted" posters and fliers with pictures of and information about al-Zarqawi, U.S. military sources said Tuesday. The information notes the United States has placed a $25 million bounty on al-Zarqawi and mentions that he is wanted in connection with the deaths of women and children.

Supporters in Falluja or Baghdad are thought to be giving him shelter.

There have been talks between the Iraqi interim government and Fallujans aimed at ending the fighting and capturing al-Zarqawi. But there was a snag late last week. The talks broke down after Iraqi government officials threatened to send in troops if the city's residents didn't turn over al-Zarqawi and other militants.

U.S. officials detained Sheikh Khalid Hamoud al-Jumaily, the chief negotiator in the peace talks, Friday and released him Monday.

On Sunday, Islamist Web sites frequently used by Iraqi insurgents posted a message purportedly from al-Zarqawi's group declaring its allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials said the statement appears credible. (Full story)

Other developments

  • In the northern city of Mosul, three car bombs Tuesday killed two Iraqi civilians and wounded three others. A U.S. military spokesman said one of the car bombs was intended for a convoy that was to have carried the Nineveh provincial governor, but he was not in it.
  • An employee of the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root was killed in a rocket and mortar strike Tuesday at a multinational forces base in the Baghdad area, a U.S. military spokesman said. The victim was not identified pending notification of relatives. The attack also wounded a U.S. soldier, the spokesman said.
  • The Iraqi government is widening the cash-for-weapons program started in Baghdad's Sadr City, where fighting has died down after a peace deal was struck earlier this month between the interim government and Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia fought U.S. and Iraqi forces
  • Two Macedonian construction workers who were kidnapped south of Baghdad have been beheaded, and the group claiming responsibility accused the men of working as spies for U.S. forces in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported Monday.
  • A U.S. soldier was found dead of a noncombat injury in his quarters at a U.S. military base in central Iraq Monday night, according to the U.S. military. This brings the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the war to 1,109.
  • Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the nation's interim National Assembly that Iraq is "working 24 hours a day to ... stop the terrorists." Iraqis are pushing ahead with reforms and improvements, Allawi said, but terrorism and lack of respect for the law are slowing the efforts. (Full story)
  • The British will make a decision by midweek on whether to grant an American request to redeploy their troops from southern Iraq into the U.S.-controlled sector of the country, British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said Monday. The move would free some U.S. troops to expand operations elsewhere in the country. The redeployment may be necessary "to ensure that free elections take place in January," Hoon told the House of Commons. (Full story)
  • Australia won't dispatch additional troops to Iraq despite a U.N. request for more manpower for the country's January elections, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday. "We're supporting the U.N. presence in Iraq by providing equipment and training for the Fijian contingent," spokesman Chris Kenny said, adding that Australia won't add to the 850 noncombat troops it has in the region. (Full story)
  • CNN's Karl Penhaul, Ingrid Formanek, Kianne Sadeq and Odai Sadik in Baghdad, and Katie Turner in London, contributed to this report.


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