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Germany: No contact with Iraqi kidnappers
Updated: 2006-01-26 10:47

Kidnappers of two German engineers seized their captives only two days after they arrived in Iraq, gaining access to their compound by pretending to be soldiers, police said Wednesday.

The two men arrived Sunday for a brief assignment at a government-owned detergent plant in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, German and Iraqi officials said.

Iraqi police initially reported the two were grabbed as they were driving to work Tuesday. But on Wednesday, two policemen — Lt. Arkan Ali and officer Salih al-Janabi — said the Germans were taken from their compound by armed men who gained access by pretending to be soldiers.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there had been no contact with the kidnappers, and government spokesman Thomas Steg said the reason for the abduction was not known.

More than 240 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein — either by insurgents or criminal gangs. At least 39 captives have been killed. Thousands of Iraqis are believed to have fallen victim to kidnappers, many of them for ransom.

The German government has refused to identify the two hostages. But the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper identified them as Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich. The men work for an engineering firm based in Leipzig.

At least five foreigners have been abducted this month — including two Kenyan communications engineers missing after an ambush in Baghdad on Jan. 18 and American journalist Jill Carroll, who was seized Jan. 7 in the capital. Her translator was killed.

Carroll's kidnappers have threatened to kill the 28-year-old freelancer unless U.S. forces release all Iraqi women in their custody. Iraq's Justice Ministry said six of the nine women in detention would be freed this week, possibly Thursday.

The U.S. command has not confirmed the ministry statement. Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, spokesman for American detainee command, said the cases of several female detainees had been reviewed and a group of Iraqis would be freed soon. He did not say if they would include women.

Meanwhile, the military said Wednesday that a U.S. Marine was killed by small-arms fire the day before in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. That raised the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war began in March 2003 to at least 2,236, according to an Associated Press count.

An Iraqi television journalist, Mahmoud Zaal, was killed Tuesday while filming fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents near the western city of Ramadi, said Thaer Ahmed, deputy director of Baghdad Television, the station where Zaal worked.

The circumstances of his death were not clear. The U.S. military said seven insurgents died in two separate clashes in Ramadi's city center.

About 60 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

An Iraqi television personality said she escaped kidnapping Tuesday by jumping from her second-floor balcony in Baghdad. Nagham Abdul-Zahra suffered multiple fractures but her husband was freed unharmed.

A prominent Sunni Arab cleric, Karim Jassim Mohammed, 39, was shot to death Wednesday by police at a checkpoint heading into the northern city of Samarra, said police Capt. Laith Mohammed. A policeman also was gunned down in Baghdad's Sadr City, police said.

The violence occurred as Iraqi political parties prepare for talks aimed at forming a government to include Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds following last month's election.

U.S. officials are pressing the Shiites and Kurds to give top posts to Sunni Arabs, the foundation of the insurgency, in hopes of winning over the disaffected minority.

On Tuesday, the Shiite bloc that won the most seats in the Dec. 15 vote opened preliminary talks with the Iraqi Accordance Front, a group of mainstream Sunni Arab parties, said Shiite lawmaker Baha al-Aaraji.

The Shiites proposed four candidates from their ranks to be prime minister, according to al-Aaraji. The Shiite religious bloc won the biggest number of parliament seats, and under the law gets first crack at forming a government.

Al-Aaraji said the four include the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari; Adil Abdul-Mahdi of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; nuclear physicist Hussain al-Shahrastani; and Nadim al-Jabiri of the Fadhila party.

Nasir al-Ani, a Sunni, said his bloc was anxious to build a new government to bring Iraq's factions together and curb violence against the Sunni community.

"The terrorist operations against Sunnis everywhere in Iraq will have an influence on our talks, but we will participate in forming the government," he said. "There will be obstacles, but if certain blocs make some concessions, these obstacles can be avoided."

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