Dozens of hostages are being held under threat of death by kidnappers in Iraq, and several governments are appealing for their release. Despite the security situation Iraqi leaders will hold a national conference later in the week to select an interim assembly.

A few hours after his release late Monday, Egyptian diplomat Mohammed Mamdou Helmi Qutb told reporters in Baghdad that members of the Lions of Allah Brigade who seized him on Friday treated him well, after first threatening to kill him. The militants had grabbed him to warn Egypt not to offer help to Iraq's security forces.

But scores of other hostages remain in captivity. Several governments, including Pakistan and Kenya are trying to negotiate freedom for their nationals who were abducted while working in Iraq. The head of a Jordanian company says he is complying with insurgent demands that he withdraw from Iraq in return for the release of two employees abducted Monday.

Al-Jazeera TV reports that insurgents are threatening to block the highway linking Iraq with Jordan to prevent trucks from bringing supplies for U.S. troops in Iraq.

During a visit to Hungary, Secretary of State Colin Powell called for coalition members to remain committed to Iraq, despite the kidnappings of foreign nationals.

"We must not be faint-hearted in the face of current challenges. We must not waver or lose patience," he said. "We must stay the course, in the course, for freedom in the face of danger."

Mr. Powell praised Bulgaria's decision to keep its troops in Iraq after two Bulgarian nationals were kidnapped and murdered. Five coalition members have pulled their troops out of the coalition in the face of unrelenting attacks against foreign nationals.

Organizers of a national conference that will select the interim assembly have kept the location of the meeting secret because of security concerns. The three-day meeting is due to open July 31.

About 1,000 delegates will choose 100 members of an interim assembly that is to set the groundwork for elections for a more permanent government.

In other news, Iran has sharply criticized the U.S. decision to grant protected status in Iraq to members of an exiled Iranian opposition group. The People's Mujahadeen is on the State Department's list of terrorist groups. The 38,000 members in Iraq are confined to a military camp in western Iraq.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli says the U.S. action has nothing to do with the group's alleged terrorist activities.

"Their status as protected persons relates to their involvement in an activity as belligerents in the conflict between the coalition and Iraq. So it was determined that they were not belligerents and, therefore, as nonbelligerents fall into this category with respect to the conflict with Iraq," he said. "This does not relate to their membership in a terrorist organization."

Ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein allowed the Iranian terrorist organization to use Iraqi territory as a launching pad for attacks across the border in Iran. Iran wants the militants repatriated.

The situation in Iraq figures prominently in the U.S. presidential race. The latest opinion survey published this week indicates nearly half the 1,000 respondents believe it was a mistake to wage war in Iraq. More than half, about 54 percent, say President Bush does not have a clear plan for dealing with Iraq. But, about the same percentage, 56 percent, say his challenger, John Kerry does not have one either.