Insurgents strike in Baghdad

· Oil ministry official killed
· US soldier killed by bomb
· US contractor kidnapped

Insurgents mounted fresh attacks in Baghdad today, killing a senior oil ministry official and an American soldier and kidnapping a Lebanese-American contractor.

A spokesman for the Iraqi interior ministry said gunmen had killed Hussein Ali, the director-general of state-owned Refined Oil Products distribution company, as he left his home in Baghdad. Insurgents have killed scores of Iraqi officials to try to undermine the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, and his Iraqi government.

The US military said that a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb this morning near Salam Pak, 12 miles south-east of Baghdad.

Radim Sadiq, a US national of Lebanese origin, became the latest victim of the recent kidnapping spree when four gunmen seized him from his Lebanese company's office in Baghdad's western Mansour district last night, the interior ministry said.

As the violence continued, Mr Allawi, said that, whatever the outcome of the US presidential election, his country would remain a friend of America and appreciate its support.

"Whoever wins will be our friend," Mr Allawi said, in an interview published in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica.

"The United States have freed us from a dictator, from a very long period of wars and agony. We will always be grateful to America for what it has done and what it continues to do."

Mr Allawi is due to arrive in Rome tomorrow to meet Pope John Paul II, whom he described as "the figure who represents peace on a global level".

The Pope "can help Iraq and its people end their current crisis", Mr Allawi said. "I know that [the Pope] was against this war. We will have a chance to talk about it."

Mr Allawi is then set to visit Brussels, where he said he would "ask for support for our electoral process and for help in re-entering in the international community".

Elections in Iraq are planned for January. Speaking about the continuing violence in his country, Mr Allawi pointed to fighters arriving from neighbouring countries, saying that in recent weeks Iraqi authorities had arrested 167 "foreign combatants".

The Iraqi leader also appealed to people in the city of Falluja "to help us free it from the clamp of foreign terrorists". He said that if current negotiations with officials and religious leaders in Falluja failed, "we will take military action. There are no alternatives."

Meanwhile, the British soldiers of the Black Watch came under fresh attack at their base south of Baghdad. One mortar exploded at the Camp Dogwood complex early yesterday evening, with five other "impacts" also reported. The Ministry of Defence stressed there were no injuries and no damage to the base.

The Black Watch are expected to begin active patrolling this week, blocking off exit routes from Falluja and releasing US forces for the anticipated assault on the rebel stronghold.

The Care International charity that employs Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped British-Iraqi aid worker, said it was distressed by the latest video released by her captors.

An unknown militant group holding Mrs Hassan threatened to turn her over to a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian extremist and al-Qaida ally, within 48 hours unless British troops quit Iraq, al-Jazeera television reported yesterday when it aired the video.

Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for hostage beheadings and some of Iraq's bloodiest suicide attacks.

"In response to the latest video, Mrs Hassan's colleagues are profoundly distressed by her condition and urge those holding her to release her without further harm," Care International said in a statement.

The video showed a masked gunman speaking, but there was no audio. Al-Jazeera said it would not broadcast the tape in full "because of the state in which the hostage appears".

Mrs Hassan, director of Care International's now halted operations in Iraq, has an Iraqi husband and has lived in Iraq for 30 years. She holds British and Iraqi passports.

Agencies Wednesday November 3, 2004 The Guardian
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004,3858,5054301-103550,00.html

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