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American, 5 others seized after gun battle

Taken in Baghdad at Saudi company

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen stormed the compound of a Saudi company in a fashionable Baghdad neighborhood yesterday, seizing an American, a Nepalese, and four Iraqis after a gun battle in which a guard and one of the assailants were killed, police said.

The American, who was not identified, was the 12th US citizen reported kidnapped or missing in Iraq. He was grabbed about 500 yards from the house where two Americans and a Briton were kidnapped last month. All three were beheaded.

The dramatic abduction occurred two days after the decapitated body of Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda was found in western Baghdad. The Al Qaeda-affiliated movement of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for his kidnapping.

Elsewhere, gunmen assassinated the deputy governor of Baghdad, while to the west of the capital US troops clashed with Sunni insurgents in Ramadi, killing an Iraqi freelance television camera operator. American artillery pounded suspected insurgent positions in Fallujah, and residents reported new air and artillery attacks there late yesterday.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi came under new pressure, this time from Iraq's president, to forgo an all-out US assault on Fallujah and other Sunni insurgent strongholds. US and Iraqi officials hope to curb the insurgency in time for national elections in January.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Maan Khalaf said the heavily armed kidnappers arrived in three cars around iftar, the traditional sunset meal that Muslims eat to break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

The kidnappers stormed the two-story house, which is surrounded by an outer wall with iron bars, in a hail of gunfire and forced the victims to leave with them. There were conflicting reports on the number taken but Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Adnan Abdul-Rahman said they were one American, a Nepalese, and four Iraqis.

''We heard gunfire. I went outside to see what's going on when a man pointed a machine gun at me and said: 'Get in or else I'll shoot at you,' " said Haidar Karar, who lives nearby.

From his house, Karar saw ''at least 20 attackers, some masked and some not." He said some were wearing traditional Arab robes and all were carrying automatic weapons.

Early yesterday, gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Baghdad province's deputy governor, Hatim Kamil, killing him and wounding his two bodyguards, officials said. A militant group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility for the attack in southeastern Baghdad.

Heavy clashes between US forces and insurgents continued in Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The latest violence occurred as US troops are gearing up for a major offensive against Fallujah, the strongest bastion of Sunni insurgents, located about 40 miles west of the capital. The order to launch the assault must come from Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister, who warned Sunday that his patience with negotiations was thinning.

However, Allawi, a Shi'ite Muslim, faces strong opposition to such an attack within the Sunni minority. In an interview published yesterday by the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, said he disagreed ''with those who believe a military attack is necessary."

''The way the coalition is managing the crisis is wrong," Yawer said. ''It is as if someone shot his horse in the head to kill a fly that landed on it. The fly flies away and the horse dies."

A handful of Iraqis showed up for the first day of voter registration in central Baghdad yesterday. They would not allow TV cameras to film them, for fear of retaliation.

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