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2 Italians, 2 Iraqis abducted in Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- Two Italian women working for an aid agency in Iraq have been kidnapped, the agency said yesterday. Gunmen in olive-green uniforms broke into the group's Baghdad offices and took the women, along with two Iraqis, neighbors said.

The attack was only the second known kidnapping of foreign women since the wave of abductions began earlier this year. The first involved a Japanese aid worker captured in Fallujah in April along with two other Japanese, who were all released a week later.

The Rome headquarters of the agency, A Bridge To . . ., identified the two Italian women as Simona Torretta, the head of the Baghdad office, and Simona Pari, both 29. The two Iraqis were identified as Raad Ali Aziz and Mahnaz Bassam.

A spokesman for the organization, Lello Rienzi, told reporters in Rome that about 20 armed men stormed their offices, saying they were from an unidentified ''Islamic group."

''We had no sign of danger," Rienzi said. He said the women ''believed they were working in complete security."

Witnesses in Baghdad said about 15 men drove up to the one-story villa used by A Bridge To . . . and broke in. The men claimed to work for the office of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the witnesses said.

A government spokesman denied that Allawi's office was involved, and said that the workers had been kidnapped.

''It was a big group," Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said of the kidnappers. ''They were wearing military uniforms and flak jackets."

In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi held an emergency meeting with the defense, interior, and foreign ministers, as well as with intelligence officials, the prime minister's office said.

Two armed men pushed their way into the Baghdad office, put guns to the heads of the aid group's guards, and grabbed the four workers, said Jean-Dominique Bunel of the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq.

One Iraqi woman resisted, but they dragged her by her headscarf, threw her into a car, and sped away, witnesses said.

Insurgents have kidnapped more than 100 foreigners since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

Numerous Iraqis have also been abducted by criminal gangs demanding ransoms.

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