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Two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq

Al-Sadr's militia keeps fighting in Baghdad

French journalists Christian Chesnot, left, and Georges Malbrunot went missing August 21.
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After the Najaf standoff, questions remain about the authority of Iraq's interim government.

Agreement ends standoff in Najaf.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Imam Ali Mosque
Muqtada al-Sadr

(CNN) -- The Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera broadcast videotape Saturday showing two French journalists who apparently have been taken hostage in Iraq by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.

The journalists, Christian Chesnot with Radio France International and Georges Malbrunot with the newspaper Le Figaro, were reported missing the morning of August 21. It was not know where they were being held.

According to Al-Jazeera, the kidnappers are demanding that the French government overturn a recently passed law that bans Muslim students from wearing headscarves in French public schools.

The ban was passed by the French parliament in the spring and is expected to go into effect in September. French lawmakers judged wearing religious attire to public school to be a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

France, a county of 60 million, has a Muslim population of 5 million.

The Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have kidnapped Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni and killed him this week after Italy refused to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Italy is still trying to retrieve Baldoni's body.

Baldoni's death was confirmed by Italy's ambassador to Qatar, who went to the headquarters of Al-Jazeera and viewed a digital photo of the journalist. (Full story)

The group has given France 48 hours to respond to its demands.

The Islamic Army in Iraq claimed that it killed two Pakistanis in July and that it kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in early August.

U.S. forces skirmish in Baghdad

U.S. forces and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia battled Saturday in Baghdad even as the truce that ended weeks of fighting in Najaf held for a second day.

Iraqi police said six people were killed and 86 were wounded in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, where al-Sadr has strong support.

First Lt. Mahmood Ra'ad from the al-Habibia police station in Sadr City said fighting went on for hours.

A spokesman for the 1st Cavalry unit that regularly patrols the neighborhood confirmed that an operation is under way in the neighborhood but would not provide details.

Violence was reported across the country.

In Baquba, north of the capital, insurgents killed five Iraqi police officers in a drive-by shooting at a checkpoint.

Also Saturday, mortar attacks killed two Iraqis in eastern Baghdad and another Iraqi in Bayji, a city north of Tikrit. Gunmen shot dead a Mosul University educator on her way to work, and U.S. fighter jets struck insurgent positions in Falluja.

Najaf truce holds

Meanwhile in Najaf, the cleanup began after three weeks of intense fighting.

Residents returned to their homes, storekeepers surveyed the damage to their shops, and U.S. and Iraqi forces maintained calm in the devastated city of about 500,000.

Iraqi security forces control security in Najaf's Old City, where the Imam Ali Mosque stands. The shrine, one of the holiest sites to Shiite Muslims, was the flash point for violence between Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. troops, and fighters loyal to al-Sadr.

U.S. Marines remain in Najaf and neighboring Kufa "in a position to provide immediate assistance if requested by the government," according to a Marine spokeswoman.

Al-Sadr and influential Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani hammered out a truce Thursday in a face-to-face meeting in Najaf.

Top Shiite clerical leaders Sayid Mohammed al-Hakim, Sheik Bashir al-Najafi and Sheik Ishac al-Sayada met with al-Sistani in Najaf on Saturday and offered their respects to the ayatollah.

Sporadic gunfire was heard Saturday in the Old City, but crews continued to clear debris. Kasim Daoud, minister of state for Military Affairs, said a council has been set up to rebuild Najaf and repair damage in Kufa.

Hundreds died in the fighting around the mosque and in the large adjacent cemetery. The Health Ministry said Friday that 110 people were killed and 501 wounded in the 24-hour-period that began Thursday at 9 a.m.

If the peace agreement holds, it would be a triumph for the interim government, which is urging al-Sadr and his movement to join the country's nascent democratic political process.

Iraqi security forces and the Mehdi Army, al-Sadr's militia, started exchanging prisoners late Friday, according to an Iraqi police source.

Under the peace agreement, the Iraqi interim government won't press murder charges that were lodged earlier this year against al-Sadr, Daoud said. Al-Sadr was wanted by Iraqi authorities in connection with the killing of rival cleric Majeed Al-Khoei in April 2003.

Mehdi militia members will be treated as a political group as long as they disarm.

CNN's Kianne Sadeq in Najaf, and Kevin Flower, Diana Muriel, Cal Perry and John Vause contributed to this report.

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