Iraq’s Shia coalition leads elections
* 9 killed in Baghdad attack
* Female Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq
* 2 US troops killed
BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Shia Muslim coalition maintained a big lead on Friday in the vote count for the country’s historic election, securing more than two thirds of ballots with about 40 percent counted.
The Iraqi election commission said the United Iraqi Alliance, which has Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as its figurehead, had secured 2.212 million votes out of 3.3 million counted so far. Iraqi Shia rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr called on Friday on his community’s senior religious leaders to insist on a timeline for a US troop withdrawal and belittled last week’s historic vote.
“This is a message from Sayed Moqtada. I call on all religious and political powers that pushed towards the elections and took part in them to issue an official statement calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq,” Sayed Hashim Abu Ragheef told faithful gathered for Friday prayers in the Shia city of Kufa.
Insurgent attacks in a region north of Baghdad left eight Iraq civilians and one rebel dead, police said Friday. A roadside bomb Friday killed three civilians driving in a truck carrying vegetables at Ishaki, about 100 kilometres north of the capital, police said. Two other civilians were killed by booby trap bomb as they drove behind an Iraqi army convoy.
Gunmen kidnapped an Italian journalist in Baghdad on Friday, the latest in a series of brazen abductions but the first since Iraq’s election. Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist with communist Rome newspaper Il Manifesto, was snatched from the street as she conducted interviews near Baghdad University. Gunmen pulled up alongside her vehicle, forced her driver and an Iraqi journalist out at gunpoint and drove off with Sgrena, police sources said. Sgrena is the eighth Italian to be kidnapped in Iraq. A US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb near Mosul while a second soldier attached to a Marine unit died during an operation south of Baghdad, the US military said on Friday. The attack south of Mosul occurred early on Thursday morning during a convoy patrol. Another soldier was wounded and taken to hospital. The soldier who died in Babil province, which stretches just south of the capital, was also killed on Thursday but no further details were given.
The deaths raise to at least 1,105 the number of US troops killed in action in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
US forces have held three French nationals since November after they were captured while fighting alongside insurgents in Iraq, a French diplomatic source said on Friday. The official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed a report in the daily Le Figaro on Friday that Paris had contacted Baghdad about its nationals, who were recruited to fight in Iraq by an Islamic network French police say they have now smashed. Le Figaro said Chekhou Diakhabi, Peter Cherif and a third man who has not been formally identified were part of a group that left the 19th arrondissement in Paris, a northern district of the capital, for Iraq last spring.
The Iraqi insurgent group the Army of Ansar al-Sunna said on Friday it had killed 29 Iraqis and taken seven prisoner when it ambushed a 50-strong Iraqi police convoy this week, an Internet statement said. agencies