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Iraq Transition

U.S. hostage pleads for life in tape

Unclear when tape was made or whether captive is still alive

Video shows American hostage Roy Hallums, who was abducted in Baghdad in November.
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American taken hostage last year pleads for his life on videotape.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A newly released videotape shows an American taken hostage last year in Iraq pleading to be spared from a "definite death" as a rifle barrel points at his head.

The video offers no clues as to when Roy Hallums' captors made the video or whether he is still alive.

In the video, Hallums says he worked with American forces and was "arrested by a resistance group in Iraq."

Hallums and five others were taken hostage in an attack in Baghdad's al-Mansour neighborhood November 1. A security guard and one of about 20 attackers died in the gunbattle.

The kidnappers later released four captives but kept Hallums and Filipino accountant Robert Tarongoy. All six worked for a Saudi-based company. The U.S. State Department confirmed in December that Hallums, a 56-year-old father of two, was taken. Tarongoy was not shown in the video.

Hallums, visibly nervous, makes no demands in the 60-second video, but he asks for help "so that I can be released as quickly as possible from this definite death."

"I'm not asking for any help from President Bush, because I know of his selfishness and unconcern for those who have been pushed into this hell hole," he says. "I am asking for help from Arab rulers, especially President Moammar Gadhafi, because he is known for helping those who are suffering."

Hallums also says his "health is in a very bad situation."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday the department had obtained a copy of the video and was evaluating it. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, he said, were working with Iraqi officials and the U.S. military on the case.

Boucher said that the State Department had been in touch with members of Hallums' family "since the disappearance in November."

Attempts by CNN to reach members of Hallums' family in the United States have so far been unsuccessful.

Two other Americans remain unaccounted for in Iraq -- Spc. Matt Maupin and Kellogg Brown & Root truck driver Timothy Bell, both missing since their convoy came under attack April 9, 2004, near Baghdad International Airport.

Justice official killed

A high-ranking official in Iraq's Justice Ministry was killed Tuesday morning as he was leaving his home southeast of Baghdad, according to Baghdad police headquarters.

A group calling itself the Army of Ansar al-Sunnah claimed responsibility for the drive-by shooting attack on Judge Qais Hashim al-Shonmari and warned of more attacks to come. The judge's son also was killed.

Insurgents have been targeting officials and police seen as cooperating with the U.S. occupation, labeling them "infidels."

A firefight broke out midday Tuesday near the Rashad police station in southeastern Baghdad, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. Three police and two insurgents were among the dead, according to Baghdad police. Seven police were also wounded.

Iraqi police said insurgents Tuesday hit two Baghdad schools slated to be polling stations. No injuries were reported in either incident, but police, without providing details, said there was some structural damage.

Meanwhile, six U.S. soldiers died Monday -- one in a roadside bombing, and five in a vehicle accident.

The fatal roadside bombing occurred in western Baghdad, according to a U.S. military statement.

The vehicle accident northeast of Baghdad claimed the lives of five soldiers in the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division near the town of Khan Bani Saad, a U.S. military statement said. Two other soldiers were injured.

Since the start of the war, 1,379 U.S. troops have died in Iraq -- 1,080 in combat, 299 under non-hostile circumstances.

Allawi lays out security plan

Promising a day when Iraq will no longer need the United States, the United Kingdom or others to ensure its stability, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on Tuesday laid out a plan for strengthening and expanding Iraqi security forces.

"We are going to develop our security forces to face the challenges -- internal and external -- so that we can ask the multinational forces to depart," Allawi told reporters at a news conference ahead of national elections on January 30.

Allawi set no timetable for his vision, saying it would be "futile," but promising the step will be taken at the right time.

Iraqi security forces will be able to "shatter and to destroy terrorist cells throughout Iraq," Allawi said. Large portions of the country already are enjoying good security, he said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush and Allawi had a five-minute telephone conversation Tuesday morning, "a brief conversation" about "how this election will be an historic moment for the people in Iraq."

Other developments

  • Iraqi officials announced the arrest of several suspected insurgent leaders Monday, including one of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's key lieutenants. A spokesman for Allawi said that Abu Umar al-Kurdi claimed responsibility for 32 car bombings, including attacks on the Jordanian Embassy, the United Nations compound and a blast that killed Shiite religious leader Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim and more than 100 others at the holy Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf in August 2003. (Full story)
  • The al-Zarqawi group claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing Monday at a checkpoint near the headquarters of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, according to an Internet statement. Baghdad police said the blast wounded 12 people, including 10 police officers.
  • The Bush administration soon will ask Congress for about $80 billion in additional funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional sources said Monday. (Full story)
  • In war-weary Falluja, many residents say their thoughts are not on the upcoming elections. What they're interested in, they say, are basic necessities. (Full story)
  • CNN's Tomas Etzler, David Ensor, Octavia Nasr, Cal Perry, Auday Sadik and Mohammad Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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