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U.S. and Iraqi forces save kidnapped Sunnis

Iraqi police said the trouble started when dozens of gunmen, some of them wearing military uniforms, raided two Sunni villages near Khan Bani Saad and abducted 10 men.

By TIMES WIRES
Published May 12, 2006


BAGHDAD - U.S. and Iraqi forces Thursday rescued seven Sunni Arab men seized by suspected Shiite militiamen near Baghdad, part of a campaign to suppress sectarian death squads responsible for hundreds of deaths this year.

Iraqi police said the trouble started when dozens of gunmen, some of them wearing military uniforms, raided two Sunni villages near Khan Bani Saad and abducted 10 men.

Village leaders and clerics alerted police and U.S. soldiers, who clashed with the gunmen and rescued seven of the hostages, police said. Three others were missing and presumed taken away by gunmen, police said.

U.S. troops killed at least one kidnapper and wounded another, said Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, commander of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor. Some of the hostages had been severely beaten, he said.

Kidnappings are thought to have risen steadily since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, although police say few are reported.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed when roadside bombs hit two U.S. Army convoys southwest of Baghdad, the military said. The U.S. command also said a U.S. soldier died Tuesday from noncombat related wounds.

In a show of solidarity with the Sunnis, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, ordered all Shiite mosques in the mostly Sunni town of Zubayr to close through Saturday to protest the assassination of a Sunni cleric there.

In other violence Thursday, at least 14 people were killed in Baghdad, according to police.

U.N. agency will resume food program in N. Korea

BEIJING - After a government-imposed shutdown of four months, the World Food Program announced Thursday that it will resume food aid to hungry North Koreans but on a sharply reduced scale.

Anthony Banbury, the U.N. agency's regional director for Asia, said he signed an accord with the government in Pyongyang that will allow 10 staff members to operate a $102-million feeding program, helping 1.9-million of the neediest North Koreans over the next two years.

That's down from 6.5-million under last year's $200-million-plus program.

The government of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, had announced in August that it no longer wanted food aid, only development aid.

Banbury said North Korea justified the smaller program by saying it did not want to foster a "culture of dependency" after a decade of foreign assistance and that its harvests had improved.