It is an anxious time for the families of several Western hostages being held in Iraq - they are awaiting news on the fate of their loved ones.

On Thursday, the Islamic Army in Iraq said it killed American security consultant Ronald Schulz. The group promised to release photos of his murder, but there has been no evidence to corroborate its claim.

Meanwhile, the families of another American, a Briton and two Canadians continue to fear for their loved ones, as a Saturday deadline for their execution draws closer. Their captors have threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners are freed.

Against this backdrop, Iraq is preparing for Thursday's parliamentary election. Voters will choose a new 275-member national assembly to sit for a four-year term.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.