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Muslim clerics call for end to kidnappings

General wants 10,000 more troops to handle insurgency



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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An anti-kidnapping fatwa issued by Muslim clerics failed to prevent 11 Russian civilians from being abducted Monday in Iraq, and efforts to broker a full cease-fire in Fallujah were reportedly making slow progress.

Seven Chinese men were freed by their captors Monday, but the fate of some 20 other kidnapped foreign civilians, including the Russians, remains uncertain.

Meanwhile, the insurgent uprising from Najaf to Tikrit is making this month the deadliest one since the war in Iraq began in March 2003. With April not yet half over, at least 73 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile action; 26 of them died in fighting over the weekend.

For the insurgents, the toll is higher, according to the U.S. military.

"The casualty figures that we have received from the enemy are somewhere about 10 times that amount," coalition military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Monday. "About civilian casualties, there is no authoritative figure out there."

Arab journalists peppered Kimmitt and coalition spokesman Dan Senor with questions about the civilian toll, particularly in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, where U.S. Marines are adhering to a unilateral cease-fire to allow Iraqi officials time to try to negotiate a permanent cease-fire.

"Once the Iraqi authority is back out there, they can get a fair figure that has not been filtered through the propaganda machines that are operating inside of Fallujah," Kimmitt said.

Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, which includes the Mideast, said Monday he has asked the Pentagon for the equivalent of at least two combat brigades, roughly 10,000 troops, to handle the insurgency in Iraq.

"What I've asked for is essentially to have a strong mobile combat arms capability," Abizaid said at a news conference in Baghdad. "That's probably about two brigades worth of combat power, if not more."

Pentagon sources said that for three months that need will be filled by elements of the 1st Armored Division that had been scheduled to return home.

Counting the missing

A group of masked men delivered the Chinese kidnap victims Monday to a group of Muslim clerics at a mosque in Baghdad.

It is unclear why the seven Chinese men -- who range in age from 18 to 49 and were all from Fujian province in southern China -- had been traveling from Jordan to Baghdad on Sunday, as China's official Xinhua news agency reported.

On the same day the Chinese were released, 11 Russians civilians working for the electric power consortium Inter Energo Services were kidnapped in Baghdad. Two Iraqi security guards were wounded in the incident, company spokesman Alexei Badikoff told the Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera.

He also said the kidnappers have made no demands.

Meanwhile, Mohsen Abdel Hamid, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said other hostages had been released this weekend after the Committee of Muslim Clerics issued a religious edict, or fatwa, against kidnapping.

"Islamic clerics and parties and all the wise people of Iraq have strongly denounced the act of taking hostages, and they issued a fatwa banning this act," Hamid said.

"And yesterday night, we made contacts with some people at these places, and we hope that the rest of the hostages would be released today, God willing, as we all believe that it is not in the interests of the Iraqi people and does not reflect their morals," he said.

Militants had vowed Saturday to burn alive the three Japanese civilians -- a journalist, a nongovernmental organization worker and an aid worker -- if Japan didn't pull its forces from Iraq by Sunday. Full story

There has been no official word on their fate.

The deadline has also passed for U.S. troops to withdraw from Fallujah, as militants holding U.S. truck driver Thomas Hamill demanded, threatening to kill him if their demand is not met.

Hamill was taken captive during an ambush on a fuel convoy Friday near Baghdad International Airport. One U.S. soldier and an Iraqi driver were killed in the incident, and 12 people were wounded. Two U.S. troops are also missing.

Six other civilian contractors working for the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root -- some of them Americans -- are unaccounted for after being ambushed over the weekend, according to the Pentagon.

Two Arab men working for aid agencies are also being held by militants, one a Syrian-born Canadian and the other a resident of Jerusalem.

In other hostage developments, militants released British citizen Gary Teeley on Sunday. Teeley, who lives in the Middle East, was reported missing Thursday.

Al-Jazeera also broadcast video Sunday of eight civilians, identified as hostages, being released, including people from Pakistan, the Philippines, India and Turkey.

Although a voice on the tape said the eight had worked for coalition forces and were being set free at the request of Sunni clerics, no government agencies could confirm that they had actually been taken hostage.

In addition to those known to be kidnapped, three Czech Television journalists had not been heard from, a spokesman for the station said.

He said the station had received unconfirmed reports they were kidnapped while traveling from Baghdad to Jordan. Two of them went missing Sunday; one earlier Monday.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said there is a "high probability" that two German security workers missing in Iraq are dead.

They were en route from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad to work as security guards for the German Embassy when their convoy came under attack Wednesday, according to German state media.

The rest of the convoy arrived in Baghdad, according to the media reports. German officials do not expect to confirm the deaths for several days, until the bodies are recovered.

Seven South Korean Christian missionaries were released Thursday after kidnappers held them for several hours.

New attacks on convoys

Iraqi civilians continue to stream out of Fallujah. Kimmitt said that the situation in the town of 200,000 was calmer than it had been but remained tense. After he spoke, firefights broke out Monday night after five Marines were wounded.

Marines moved on Fallujah after four U.S. civilian security contract workers were killed and mutilated March 31.

President Bush, speaking at a news conference at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said the United States must defend ordinary Iraqis against "gangs that were trying to take the law into their own hands."

"The Iraq people are on the side of the transition to a peaceful country," Bush said. "We just can't let ... a small percentage of the Iraqi people decide the fate of everyone."

Bush will hold a news conference Tuesday evening at the White House to discuss the situation in Iraq.

South of the Iraqi capital Monday, insurgents attacked more coalition supply convoys, burning a shipment of armored personnel carriers.

West of Baghdad, insurgents hit another of the lightly guarded military convoys, and looters quickly moved in to raid cargo from a crippled truck.

U.S. forces moved into the area around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, where radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is surrounded by his followers and militia, but have not moved to capture him. Kimmitt said the military would prefer not to enter the cities.

U.S. forces put down al-Sadr-inspired rebellions in Nasiriya, Kut and other cities, but left Najaf and Karbala surrounded but in peace.

Late in the day, Najaf police chief Gen. Ali Hadi and Qais al-Aarajy, a spokesman for al-Sadr, said they had reached a deal to allow the police to resume their posts.

CNN's Jaime FlorCruz, Caroline Faraj, Octavia Nasr and Claudia Otto contributed to this report.


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