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Catholic archbishop kidnapped in Mosul

Archbishop Casmoussa, seen in this undated photo, was kidnapped in Mosul Monday.

MOSUL, Iraq (CNN) — A Catholic archbishop was kidnapped Monday in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Iraqi officials said.

Basil George Casmoussa, 66, was outside a private residence on a main road in al-Muhendisin, in Mosul, when he was taken captive at 5:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. ET), said Kahsro Goran, deputy governor of Nineveh province.

Iraqi officials said the kidnappers used two cars.

Casmoussa, an Iraqi, lives in a neighborhood east of Mosul called Qaraqos, Goran said.

Christians are a minority in Iraq, which is 97 percent Muslim. But thousands of Christians live in the Mosul area.

The statement from the Vatican said: “The Holy See deplores in the firmest way such a terrorist act and demands the archbishop be freed immediately.”

15 Iraqis killed

Earlier Monday, insurgents killed at least 14 members of the Iraqi security forces and one civilian in attacks on checkpoints in two cities.

Near Baquba, north of Baghdad, insurgents traveling in multiple vehicles killed seven Iraqi army soldiers and one civilian at a checkpoint, Iraqi and U.S. military officials said.

The officials said four other Iraqi soldiers were wounded when they were hit with small-arms fire in the attack in Buhritz, about six miles (10 kilometers) south of Baquba.

At least seven Iraqi police were killed when a suicide car bomb exploded at the first of three checkpoints in front of an Iraqi police headquarters near the north-central city of Tikrit, a U.S. military spokesman and a local official said.

The official with the Tikrit local government said 19 other people were hurt in the explosion at the Beiji police headquarters, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Tikrit.

Two U.S. soldiers killed

Two U.S. soldiers were killed Monday in a gunbattle and suicide car bomb attack in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, the U.S. military said.

The soldiers were part of an Army unit attached to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, according to a Marine Corps statement. Ramadi is the capital of Iraq’s sprawling Al Anbar province and a longtime insurgent hotbed.

Guerrillas attacked the troops with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, said 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert, a Marine spokesman.

During the firefight, members of the Army squad moved to stop an approaching taxi, which turned out to be carrying a bomb, Gilbert said.

The blast killed two soldiers and slightly wounded some nearby civilians with shrapnel, Gilbert said. The civilians were treated by U.S. medics.

Monday’s deaths brought to 1,367 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

More than two-thirds of those have been killed in guerrilla attacks since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, 2003.

Water pipeline hit

Elsewhere, insurgents sabotaged a pipeline that supplies 70 percent of Baghdad’s water supply, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.

The spokesman said that the attackers apparently placed the explosives in a manhole Saturday and blew up a section of the pipeline, which is about 100 feet (30 meters) below ground.

Baghdad has reservoirs with enough water for five days, the spokesman said, but some Baghdad residents have complained of water shortages.

On Monday, Iraq’s Council of Ministries reported that in the past few days in Falluja, west of Baghdad, clashes between the Iraqi army and insurgents resulted in the deaths of 35 “terrorists.”

Sixty-four others were detained and weapons and rockets were confiscated, the council said.

Election preparations

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that the technical preparations for the January 30 Iraq elections are ready.

“Let me say that as far as we are concerned, all the technical preparations are ready,” Annan said in New York. “We’ve done everything we need to do to help the elections go forward. Obviously, the situation is far from ideal.”

He said that measures were being taken to ensure security, but they would not be “100 percent proof.”

Iraqi expatriates in five U.S. cities and 13 countries began registering Monday for their homeland’s first independent election in almost 50 years.

Election officials estimate that about 1 million Iraqis living abroad will be eligible to vote. (Full story)

Polling places hit

Kirkuk’s chief of police said a school west of the northern city that was slated to be used as a polling station was damaged by some kind of an explosion early Monday. No casualties were reported, the chief said.

A school in the southern city of Basra that also will be used as a voting site was attacked Sunday night with machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, a police officer in Basra said.

Despite the precarious security situation across the country, Iraqi and U.S. officials have vowed not to delay the election for a 275-member transitional assembly.

White House spokesman Dan Bartlett, speaking Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition,” acknowledged that the “security environment” in Iraq “is tough,” but he said that millions of Iraqis who want to vote would be able to do so.

Other developments

A U.S. soldier died Monday from injuries sustained in an accident Sunday, according to a press release from the U.S.-led multinational forces. The soldier was traveling in a Humvee that flipped over into a canal. Another soldier died at the scene, the release said.

The director general of the de-Baathification committee, Imad Abd Al-Zahra, was assassinated Sunday as he left his Baghdad home, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation. Al-Zahra also was the director of the mechanical department of Iraqi Railways. Gunmen killed his brother last month.

A truck driver was reported missing northeast of Baquba after three civilian trucks carrying military equipment were attacked, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday. The trucks were heading to a military base near the Turkish border Sunday when gunmen attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

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