BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents launched fresh attacks, killing four U.S. soldiers and four Iraqi security troops in roadside bombings, as partial returns from the historic national elections showed a Shiite alliance with ties to Iran rolling up a strong lead over pro-U.S. interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search).
A member of the Baghdad city council, Abbas Hasan Waheed, was killed Saturday in a drive-by shooting, police said.
More returns from the voting for the 275-member National Assembly were expected to be announced later Saturday. They are expected to confirm a strong showing by the United Iraqi Alliance, which is endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite (search) cleric.
The four Americans were killed in two separate bombings Friday night near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Saturday. Four Iraqi National Guardsmen died in a roadside bombing early Saturday in Basra, Iraq's second largest city.
Early Saturday, an Italian journalist received a call from the mobile telephone of colleague Giuliana Sgrena (search), 56, who was seized by gunmen Friday near Baghdad University.
Radio journalist Barbara Schiavulli, who received the call from Sgrena's phone, heard only Arab music playing in the background, said Cristiana Tomei, a colleague of Schiavulli's speaking in Rome.
A Web site posting in the name of the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Italian officials said they were not convinced the statement was genuine.
Sgrena is the second Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq, and at least the ninth Italian seized here in recent months. French journalist Florence Aubenas, who works for the daily newspaper Liberation, disappeared Jan. 5 in Baghdad.
Also Saturday, an Iraqi police commander said 11 of his officers were missing after their convoy was ambushed this week in a western Baghdad suburb. Insurgents killed five policemen and an Iraqi National Guard major in the Thursday attack.
In the northern city of Mosul, the bodies of three unidentified Iraqis who had been shot in the head were found on the streets of the city's eastern sector, police said. No other details were available.
Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, has been a flashpoint for insurgent attacks and clashes with U.S. forces since November, when a rebel uprising drove out most of the city's police force.
The violence is continuing as election officials count ballots from Sunday's national election — the first since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.
Early returns point to a historic shift in power from the Sunni Arab minority to the Shiites, believed to comprise about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people. Several key figures on the Shiite ticket spent years in exile in Iran. Al-Sistani himself is Iranian-born although he has lived most of his life in Iraq.
No turnout figures have been released, but it appears that many Sunni Arabs stayed away from the polls, either out of fear of rebel reprisals or because of opposition to an election held under U.S.-led military occupation. By contrast, Shiites and Kurds turned out in large numbers.
Adding to the uncertainty, complaints are surfacing over alleged voting irregularities mainly in Sunni areas. And some Sunni clerics are challenging the legitimacy of the parliament and government that will emerge from Sunday's election.
In figures released by the election commission Friday, more than two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted so far went to the Alliance. The faction headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite, trailed with about 18 percent — or more than 579,700 votes.
The partial returns were from 10 mostly southern provinces that are predominantly Shiite, and the Alliance had been expected to win big there.