BAGHDAD -- A suicide car bomb packed with explosives, mortars, and rockets exploded yesterday outside a US base in the northern city of Mosul, killing three Iraqis -- including a child -- and injuring three US soldiers.
Also, militants announced they were holding four new hostages but freed a senior Egyptian diplomat, amid their escalating campaign to force US-allied countries and foreign contractors to flee Iraq. In other violence, an Iraqi government official was gunned down by assassins outside his Baghdad home.
Suicide attacks, assassinations, roadside bombs, and abductions have been persistent tactics in the 15-month insurgency sowing chaos across Iraq. Kidnappings have escalated, however, since the Philippines met militant demands and withdrew troops last week to save the life of a Filipino truck driver.
Egyptian Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb -- the militants' highest-ranking captive -- was abducted Friday. His kidnapping was followed by censure from leaders in Iraq and the Arab world for excesses including beheadings, and it was possible the criticism factored in the diplomat's swift release.
An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said Qutb was released after negotiations and was in good condition at the mission's headquarters. His captors said in a statement on the pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera that they had decided to free Qutb because he was a good religious man and had good morals.
Militants said they had taken the diplomat to deter Egypt from sending security specialists to help the new Iraq government, and his abduction seemed to signal that insurgents were seeking higher-value targets.
Many of the more than 70 people abducted in Iraq have been truck drivers, more vulnerable than heavily armed military troops as they bring essential goods and materials into the country.
Since Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz was freed July 20, separate militant groups have kidnapped three Kenyans, three Indians, and one Egyptian working for a Kuwaiti company. Two different groups announced yesterday they were holding two Pakistanis and two Jordanians, and threatened to kill them if their companies continue working in Iraq.
''We've seen since the Philippines government acceded to the demands of the terrorists a whole spate of new hostage taking," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of Australia said. ''And I'm afraid that's what inevitably is going to happen in those circumstances."
George Sada, spokesman for interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq, also expressed regret at the Philippines's decision: ''We think that to bow to the terrorists' threats is the wrong policy."
Iraqi government officials say the abductions are damaging reconstruction efforts, and foreign companies -- particularly transport firms -- say kidnappings have driven up the cost of doing business and made it tougher to find employees.
Adel Abou Hawili, shipping manager for a Kuwaiti company, said kidnappings have forced transport costs up ''50 to 65 percent" and made it harder to find drivers to work here. The lack of security has forced the company to subcontract land transport jobs to Iraqis to ''avoid the risks."
In the Mosul bombing, a suicide attacker detonated the explosives-packed Chevrolet about 50 yards from the gate of the US base. Three Iraqis standing nearby -- a woman, a child, and a guard -- were killed, and three US soldiers and two other Iraqi guards were wounded, said a US military spokeswoman, Captain Angela M. Bowman.
In Baghdad, gunmen killed Colonel Musab al-Awadi, the Interior Ministry's deputy chief of tribal affairs, and two of his guards, according to Sabah Kadhim, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Also yesterday, gunmen in the southern city of Basra killed two Iraqi women who were working as cleaners with British forces, police Lieutenant Colonel Ali Kadhem said. Two other women were seriously wounded.
In the latest kidnappings, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq released a video yesterday announcing it had abducted two Pakistanis and passed a death sentence against them in part because of President Pervez Musharraf's statements about the possibility of sending Pakistani troops to Iraq.
The group did not say when it would kill the men.
The Pakistani government had declared the two men, Raja Azad, 49, an engineer, and Sajad Naeem, 29, a driver, missing over the weekend.
The video aired on Al-Jazeera briefly showed the two men, along with some of their identity cards, and an Iraqi contract driver whom they did not threaten.
The men reportedly work for the Kuwait-based al-Tamimi group; the militants also warned the firm to stop doing business in Iraq or it would kill more of its employees.
In a separate abduction, a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Corps announced it was holding two Jordanian drivers and demanded their Jordanian company stop cooperating with US forces and cease doing business here or they would kill the hostages in 72 hours.
If the company does not comply, ''it will bear the consequences of the killing and retribution against these two men," one of the militants said on the video.