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U.S. contractor kidnapped in Iraq
Updated: 2005-04-12 07:34

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. contractor was kidnapped Monday in the Baghdad area, the latest in a string of abductions that have forced many foreigners to work here under armed guard. A pickup truck also exploded near a U.S. convoy as it patrolled a crowded market in the troubled city of Samarra, killing at least three people and injuring more than 20 others.

Three suicide bombers also hit a Marine outpost in western Iraq, wounding three Marines and three civilians in an attack claimed by Iraq's most feared terror groups.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the American contractor, who was working on a reconstruction project, had been abducted around noon. He refused to release an identity or other details, but said the contractor's family had been informed.

In Samarra, a troubled city 60 miles north of Baghdad, a pickup truck blew up near a U.S. patrol, killing three civilians and wounding more than 20 others, including four U.S. soldiers, officials said. One soldier was evacuated for medical treatment, and the others were treated and returned to duty, the U.S. military said.

Loudspeakers urged residents to donate blood as the wounded poured into the hospital. Most of the injured were women and children, hospital official Abdul Nasir Hamid said. The incident was in the Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of the insurgency.

Early Monday, suicide bombers tried to crash two cars and a fire truck into Camp Gannon in the western desert, but "the drivers of the vehicles were stopped short of the camp by forces manning the checkpoints," a U.S. military statement said.

The vehicles exploded, wounding three Marines and three civilians and causing slight damage to the concrete barriers and a nearby mosque, U.S. officials said.

Insurgents also fired at the camp, which is in the town of Qaim near the Syrian border, and a U.S. attack helicopter destroyed a car carrying a gunman, officials said. It was unclear how many insurgents and suicide bombers were killed in the assault.

The attacks came nine days after dozens of heavily armed insurgents tried unsuccessfully to break into Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. That battle wounded more than 40 U.S. soldiers and a dozen prisoners at a facility synonymous with the U.S. military's prison abuse scandal.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, which previously said 10 of its fighters were killed attacking Abu Ghraib, also claimed to have carried out Monday's suicide bombing in Qaim.

In Baghdad, about 500 members of Iraq's police and army swept through buildings in the central Rashid neighborhood along with some 200 American soldiers, Lt. Col. Clifford Kent of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division said. He said 65 suspected militants were detained.

One Iraqi soldier was wounded, but no American casualties were reported in the largest joint U.S.-Iraqi operation in Iraq's capital since the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga., assumed responsibility for the city on Feb. 27, Kent said.

One suspected insurgent also was being treated for wounds, the military said.

In a small victory against a spate of kidnappings targeting foreigners, a Defense Ministry official said Monday that Iraqi security forces arrested a man who claimed responsibility for last year's kidnapping of two French journalists. The hostages, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were released in December after four months in captivity.

Iraqi army soldiers captured Amer Hussein Sheikhan in the Mahmoudiya area on April 4, the official said on condition of anonymity. No other details were available.

Romanian President Traian Basescu's office also said three Romanian journalists kidnapped along with their guide nearly two weeks ago in Iraq were believed to be alive and authorities were optimistic they would return home. Spokeswoman Adriana Saftoiu offered no other information.

At the same time, a group claiming to have kidnapped a Pakistani official in Iraq has demanded money for his release, a senior Pakistani government official said, without giving an amount. Malik Mohammed Javed, a deputy counselor at the Pakistani mission in Baghdad, went missing late Saturday after leaving home for prayers at a nearby mosque.

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war against terrorism but has refused to deploy peacekeepers and urges its citizens to avoid coming here.

Iraqi legislators met Monday to discuss rules and regulations governing their sessions, but little headway was made on forming a new government. Shiite Arab Ibrahim al-Jaafari was named last week to the country's interim prime minister post, but he is still assembling his Cabinet.

Hussein al-Sadr, a lawmaker from the coalition of outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said his group would participate in the government but was demanding four ministerial posts, including one of the main ministries. "If our demands are not met, then we will lead the opposition in the parliament," he said.

Ali al-Dabagh, a lawmaker from the Shiite clergy-led United Iraq Alliance, said he thought the demands were too high.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans in a third day of protests demanding that U.S. forces go home. Tens of thousands gathered Saturday in Baghdad, and a demonstration was held Sunday in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of the capital.

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