Two female Italian aid workers have been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital. The abductions came amid continued fighting around the Iraqi city of Fallujah as well as in Baghdad.
Reports from Baghdad say armed men forced their way into the offices of an Italian aid group and kidnapped two women, both said to be in their late 20s. Witnesses say the gunmen also took an Iraqi man who worked for the group as well as an Iraqi woman who was visiting the compound at the time.
Jean Dominique Bunel, a representative for non-governmental aid groups in Iraq, said he would work tirelessly for the release of the hostages, but declined to comment further until the families of the abductees were notified. "You must understand what we are talking about, how serious it is. I must inform the families first [before commenting further]," he said.
The abducted aid workers had been involved in projects to assist Iraqi schools and improve access to drinking water. Five other Italian nationals have been kidnapped in Iraq, two of them have been executed.
Meanwhile, two U.S. soldiers have been killed in separate attacks in Baghdad. U.S. military sources say a rocket-propelled grenade blast killed one soldier and wounded two others in the Shi'ite slum known as Sadr City. Small arms fire killed another U.S. serviceman in the western part of the city. More than two dozen Iraqis have been killed in the Sadr City district since late Monday, when militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attacked a U.S. patrol.
Elsewhere, U.S. forces pounded insurgent positions in the strife-ridden city of Fallujah in response to rebel attacks on Marine units. Monday, a suicide bombing near Fallujah killed seven U.S. servicemen and three Iraqi national guardsmen.
The death toll for U.S. forces in Iraq now stands just below 1,000, a fact that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged at a Pentagon news conference.
"Soon American forces are likely to suffer the 1,000th casualty at the hands of terrorists and extremists in Iraq. When combined with U.S. losses in other theaters in the global war on terror, we have lost well more than 1,000 already," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said no terrorist or insurgent should believe that the pain of U.S. casualties in Iraq and elsewhere will lessen America's resolve to win the war on terrorism.