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4 Egyptians seized in Iraq ambush

US soldier slain, 2 more wounded by roadside bomb

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen waylaid a minibus yesterday carrying foreign technicians to their jobs at a mobile telephone company in western Baghdad, seizing four Egyptians in the second kidnapping of foreigners in the Iraqi capital within a week. A US soldier was killed north of the capital.

Kurdish leader to urge Sunni Arabs to help with constitution. A17.

Elsewhere, an Iraqi police captain said 22 Iraqi security troops and 14 insurgents were killed last night when rebels tried to storm a police station in a village south of Baghdad. The US command denied the report.

In a telephone interview, Captain Muthana Khalid Ali of the Babil provincial police command said the nighttime attack in Al-Bu Mustafa village, in the Mahawil district, about 50 miles from Baghdad, began when insurgents in about 10 pickups tried to storm the local police station.

He said the fighting raged about an hour, and five Iraqi national guardsmen, 17 police officers, and 14 insurgents were killed. The insurgents later withdrew, he said.

But US command spokeswoman Captain Patricia Brewer said no attack occurred, citing provincial authorities. American troops are stationed in the northern part of Babil Province. Efforts to contact Ali were unsuccessful, and the operations room of the Babil provincial police command was not answering its phone.

Earlier yesterday in the same community, two Iraqi national guardsmen were killed and three were wounded in an ambush, according to the Polish military.

North of the capital, a US soldier from Task Force Baghdad was killed, and two others were wounded in a roadside bombing, the US command said.

Two rockets also exploded near Baghdad International Airport, and a third slammed into an Iraqi national guard building in a western suburb. No casualties were reported.

The attacks were the latest sign that insurgents are stepping up attacks against Iraq's fledgling security forces, which the United States hopes can assume a greater role in fighting the rebels once a newly elected government takes office.

The violence and kidnappings raise new concerns about security after a brief downturn in violence since the Jan. 30 elections, when Iraqis chose a new National Assembly in the first nationwide balloting since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.

A final tally was expected by Thursday, but initial returns point to a landslide by Shi'ite Muslim candidates endorsed by their clerics. Shi'ites are thought to make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.

On the other hand, many Sunni Arabs, estimated at 20 percent of the population and the core of the insurgency, are thought to have stayed home from the polls, out of fear of rebel reprisal or because of a boycott call by Sunni clerics.

The four Egyptians were seized early yesterday near the Mansour district of western Baghdad, according to Egyptian and Iraqi officials. They worked for Iraqna, a subsidiary of the Egyptian firm Orascom Telecommunications, which operates the mobile phone network in Baghdad and central Iraq.

Six other Egyptians working for Iraqna were kidnapped in September. All were ultimately freed although Orascom said at the time that it was committed to continuing its work in Iraq.

No group claimed responsibility for the latest abduction. On Friday, Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was kidnapped by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University. Sgrena, 56, is a veteran reporter for the communist daily Il Manifesto.

Her colleagues appealed yesterday to her captors to free her, citing the journalist's anti-American stance and saying holding her would damage the image of Iraq. "Her articles in Il Manifesto have always expressed opposition to the occupation war led by the United States," her colleagues said in a statement to Al-Jazeera television. "Keeping her captive and hurting her would amount to seriously damaging the cause of Iraq before the eyes of the world."

A group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed Friday to have kidnapped the woman and gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq. But it made no threats to kill her and did not say what would happen if its demands were not met.

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