- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

BAGHDAD — Gunmen stormed the compound of a Saudi company in a fashionable Baghdad neighborhood yesterday, seizing an American, a Nepalese and four Iraqis after a gunbattle in which a guard and one of the assailants were killed, police said.

The American, who was not identified, was the 12th U.S. citizen reported kidnapped or missing in Iraq. He was grabbed about 500 yards from the house where two Americans and a Briton were kidnapped last month. All three were beheaded.

The dramatic abduction occurred two days after the decapitated body of Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda was found in western Baghdad. The al Qaeda-affiliated movement of Abu Musab Zarqawi claimed responsibility for his kidnapping.

Elsewhere, gunmen assassinated the deputy governor of Baghdad, while to the west of the capital U.S. troops clashed with Sunni insurgents in Ramadi, killing an Iraqi freelance television camera operator. American artillery pounded suspected insurgent positions in Fallujah, and residents reported fresh air and artillery attacks there late yesterday.

A few Iraqis showed up for the first day of voter registration in central Baghdad. They refused to allow TV cameras to videotape them, for fear of retaliation.

Police Lt. Col. Maan Khalaf said the heavily armed kidnappers arrived in three cars around iftar, the traditional sunset meal that Muslims eat to break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

The kidnappers stormed the two-story house, which is surrounded by an outer wall with iron bars, in a hail of gunfire, and forced the victims to leave with them. There were conflicting reports on the number taken, but Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said they were one American, a Nepalese and four Iraqis.

More than 160 foreigners have been abducted this year by militants with political demands or by criminals seeking ransom. At least 33 captives have been killed — several of them by Zarqawi’s group, which is believed to have headquarters in Fallujah.

Early yesterday, gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Baghdad province’s deputy governor, Hatim Kamil, killing him and wounding his two bodyguards, officials said. A militant group, the Ansar al-Sunnah army, claimed responsibility for the attack in southeastern Baghdad.

Heavy clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents continued in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad. A bomb Sunday killed one Marine and wounded four there, the military said.

Yesterday, a woman was killed and her two children injured, hospital officials in Ramadi said. Also killed was an Iraqi freelance television cameraman, Diaa Najm, who provided material to Associated Press Television News — believed to be the 24th journalist killed in Iraq this year.

The latest violence occurred as American troops gear up for a major offensive against Fallujah, located about 40 miles west of the capital. It is the strongest bastion of Sunni insurgents.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a Shi’ite Muslim, faces strong opposition to such an attack within the Sunni minority. In an interview to the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, interim President Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, a Sunni, said he disagreed “with those who believe a military attack is necessary.”

“The way the coalition is managing the crisis is wrong,” Mr. al-Yawer said. “It is as if someone shot his horse in the head to kill a fly that landed on it. The fly flies away and the horse dies.”

Mr. Allawi has given no deadline for an attack on Fallujah but has insisted that the city hand over foreign fighters and permit government forces to assume responsibility for law and order.

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