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Gunmen kidnap 3 Britons in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen kidnapped three British nationals in the Iraqi capital today, the Interior Ministry said. The three were seized from their house in Baghdad’s al-Mansour neighborhood at dawn, said ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdel-Rahman.

He could not give their identities or say who they worked for.

A British diplomat in Baghdad speaking on condition of anonymity was unable to confirm the report but said embassy officials were investigating.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Army patrol found the bodies of three decapitated men Wednesday north of Baghdad, and a car bomb at an Iraqi national guard checkpoint to the south a few hours later killed two people and wounded at least 10.

In Baqouba, north of Baghdad, another roadside bomb reportedly wounded four police officers and a civilian.

The attacks brought the death toll in and around Baghdad to 150 in the past four days in a campaign by insurgents to destabilize the interim government.

With proposed national elections only months away, American forces are launching attacks to clear out rebel strongholds across Iraq’s north and west. But the insurgency has been growing stronger, more violent and more widespread.

“Without a doubt, they are doing this because they don’t want the government to last,” said Sabah Kadim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. “But we aren’t going to give in. There is no alternative. We can’t have violent people and masked men running Baghdad and Iraq.”

Kadim said an Iraqi plan was under way to tackle the escalating violence, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

On Wednesday, American troops clashed with insurgents in Ramadi, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 30, local officials said.

The U.S. military reported that a Marine was killed Tuesday during fighting west of Baghdad, and a second Marine died of wounds received Wednesday in the same area.

The three mutilated bodies found by soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division appeared to belong to men of Middle Eastern descent, American military officials said. The heads were found near the bodies. Their identities weren’t immediately known.

The kidnapping of foreigners has become routine in Iraq in recent months. Many of those abducted are truck drivers or translators from Muslim countries. As with Western kidnap victims, Muslim captives often face beheading because they work for the U.S.-led military coalition or Western companies.

At least four Westerners are being held: two French journalists kidnapped south of Baghdad and two Italian aid workers who were abducted along with two Iraqi colleagues from their office.

Guerrilla fighters in the city of Samarra, north of Dijiel, said they were holding two Australians, although an Australian team sent to investigate said Wednesday that it had accounted for all the Australians known to be in Iraq.


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