Hostage Freed; Bombers Target Iraqi Police

An Italian journalist captured in Iraq a month ago was released Friday, the Italian government said, while 11 Iraqis were killed in clashes and attacks amid a violent week in the wartorn nation.

Giuliana Sgrena (search), 56, who works for the left-wing Il Manifesto (search) newspaper, might be back in Rome later Friday, said Italy's Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Margherita Boniver. The release "is confirmed 100 percent," Boniver told Sky TG24 television news.

Sgrena, who was abducted in Baghdad on Feb. 4., was shown in a video pleading for her life and demanding that all foreign troops — including Italian forces — leave Iraq.

Her reported release came as U.S. forces clashed with insurgents, killing three. Residents of an Iraqi town killed another seven militants and a car bomb left another man dead northeast of the capital.

Also Friday, two members of the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance (search) dropped out of the political group Friday because of its inability to carve out a deal for a new prime minister after historic Jan. 30 elections.

The alliance took 140 of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, the body charged with writing a new constitution. But it needs support from other parties to muster the required two-thirds majority to insure control of top posts in the new government.

The members who dropped out included one of its more well-known supporters, Abdul-Karim Mahmoud al-Mohammedawi (search). Dubbed "Prince of the Marshes," al-Mohammedawi led the resistance movement against Saddam Hussein in the southern marsh region. The other was Ali Hashim al-Youshaa, one of the alliance's leaders.

A car bomb in Baqouba Friday killed one man and wounded four others, the defense ministry said. In other violence, three militants were killed in clashes between U.S. soldiers and insurgents in Baghdadi, 90 miles west of Baghdad, the ministry added.

In Wihda, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, residents attacked a group of militants, killing seven, said police Capt. Hamadi al-Zubeidy. The militants were allegedly planning to raid the town.

The Shiite Muslim-dominated alliance and a Kurdish coalition, which emerged from the elections with the two biggest blocks of seats in the National Assembly, have made little headway in their talks on combining forces to select the leaders of the new government.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search), whose party finished third, on Friday again denied rumors he had given up his effort to stitch together support from other groups, including the Kurds, that would allow him to remain prime minister.

Forming Iraq's first democratically elected government is a key step in the U.S. plan for stabilizing the country, and insurgents have been striking at Iraqi police and military forces seeking to undermine the effort.

Violence that has killed hundreds of people the past three weeks led Allawi Thursday to extend a state of emergency until the end of March. First announced nearly four months ago, the order affects all of Iraq except Kurdish-run areas in the north.

The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.

A suicide bomber on Monday attacked mostly Shiite police and National Guard recruits lined up for physical exams at a medical clinic in Hillah, killing more than 120 in the deadliest single strike since Saddam's ouster in April 2003.

The U.S. military also reported that three American soldiers were killed in action Wednesday, pushing the number of U.S. military deaths since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to 1,502, according to an Associated Press count.

At least 1,140 Americans, including four civilians working for the military, have died from hostile action, according to the Defense Department. The other deaths are from non-combat causes.