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Iraq's Cabinet to Seek Final UN Extension for US-led Troops


Iraq's Cabinet has agreed to ask the United Nations to extend authorization for U.S.-led forces in Iraq through the end of next year.

The current one-year mandate expires at the end of this month (December 2007) and Iraq's chief government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, says this will be the last time the government seeks such an extension.

At present, there are more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

In other news, the kidnappers of five British citizens seized in May have released a broadcast message, aired by al-Arabiya demanding that Britain withdraw its forces from Iraq by the end of next week.

In the video, a purported hostage identified himself as "Jason." He gave the date as November 18 and said that he feels forgotten after spending 173 days in captivity.

Britain has never disclosed the identities of the hostages.

One is a computer consultant and four are security guards. They were kidnapped in May at the Iraqi Finance Ministry compound.

Meanwhile, Iraq and the United Nations are launching an emergency plan to assist returning refugees, even as the chief U.N. envoy to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura warns the security situation is too fragile for a wide-scale homecoming.

Under the plan, the U.N. will provide $11.4 million in assistance, including food baskets and emergency kits for 5,000 families.

Earlier, an Iraqi humanitarian group said more than 25,000 Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria have returned to Iraq since mid-September.

The Iraqi Red Crescent said in a report released Tuesday that refugees are returning because Iraq's security situation has improved.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.