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American Hostage Tom Fox Killed In Iraq

The body of the only American among four Christian peace activists kidnapped late last year was found in west Baghdad with gunshots to his head and chest, Iraqi police said Saturday.

Tom Fox, 54, from Clear Brook, Va., was the fifth American hostage killed in Iraq. There was no immediate word on his fellow hostages, a Briton and two Canadians.

The U.S. command in Baghdad confirmed that Fox's body was picked up by American forces on Thursday evening, although it provided no information on the condition.

An Iraqi police patrol was also at the scene, said Falah al-Mohammedawi, an official with the Interior Ministry, which oversees police.

He said Fox was found with his hands tied and gunshot wounds to his head and chest. There were cuts on his body and bruises on his head, al-Mohammedawi said.

The FBI verified that the body was that of Fox, and his family was notified, U.S. State Department spokesman Noel Clay said in Washington.

"The State Department continues to call for the unconditional release of all other hostages" in Iraq, the spokesman said.

Word of Fox's killing came as four people — including an Iraqi journalist and a human rights activist — died in drive-by shootings Saturday, police said.

Amjad Hamid, who was in charge of educational programs at Iraqiya state television, was killed with his driver in Khadra, a dangerous, mostly Sunni west Baghdad neighborhood, the channel said.

Waad Jabar, who worked for an Iraqi rights group, was gunned down with his bodyguard in Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a series of raids in Baghdad and north of the capital, arresting 20 suspected insurgents early Saturday.

Four suspects were detained at a west Baghdad mosque identified by the U.S. military as a possible safe haven for Al Qaeda in Iraq. Four others were captured at other sites in the same area, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The eight were suspected of kidnapping, making car bombs and financing and supporting terrorists, the statement said.

A dozen more suspects were captured in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's ancestral hometown 80 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. They were believed to be part of an insurgent cell responsible for the killing of dozens of Narhwan-area residents in recent weeks.

A large weapons cache — including artillery shells, mortar rounds, anti-tank missiles and homemade bombs — also was seized during the raid, the military said.

The previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigades claimed responsibility for kidnapping the four Christian Peacemaker Teams members, who disappeared Nov. 26.

Three of them — Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32; and Briton Norman Kember, 74 — were seen in a video dated Feb. 28 that was broadcast Tuesday on Al-Jazeera television. Fox did not appear in the brief, silent footage.

His body was found near train tracks through Dawoudi, a mixed Sunni-Shiite area that has been largely shielded from the sectarian violence that erupted in other west Baghdad neighborhoods after last month's bombing of a Shiite shrine.

His Chicago-based group said: "We mourn the loss of Tom Fox, who combined a lightness of spirit, a firm opposition to all oppression, and the recognition of God in everyone."

Christian Peacemaker co-directors Doug Pritchard and Carol Rose said in a statement, "In response to Tom's passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done."

At least 250 foreigners have been kidnapped in the nearly three years since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq and at least 40 have been killed.

In one of the most high-profile cases, Jill Carroll, a freelance writer for The Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped Jan. 7 in Baghdad. She has appeared in three videotapes delivered by her kidnappers to Arab satellite television stations.

Carroll's kidnappers initially demanded the release of all female detainees in Iraq, but later amended their demands, which have not been made public. The Monitor launched a campaign on Iraqi television stations Wednesday asking Iraqis to "Please help with the release of journalist Jill Carroll."

The unrelenting violence has complicated already tortuous negotiations for Iraq's first permanent, post-invasion government.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Friday that he hoped leaders of all Iraqi factions would soon join him some place outside Baghdad for round-the-clock talks on political feuds — most visibly over the proposed second-term candidacy of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a member of that Shiite alliance that won the largest number of seats in Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

The stakes are high for the Americans, who want a strong and functioning central government in place quickly to enable Washington to begin removing some of its 132,000 troops this summer.

In Washington, President Bush acknowledged on Friday that the bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine and subsequent sectarian violence, which killed hundreds, had nearly derailed the U.S. goal.

"There's no question there was violence and killing," Bush said in advance of a series of speeches he plans in a campaign to convince Americans that the United States is on the right path to defeat Iraqi terrorists and insurgents.

But Bush said: "The society took a step back from the abyss, and people took a sober reflection about what a civil war would mean."

Apparently taking up Khalilzad's call for an extraordinary gathering away from Baghdad's violence and tense political atmosphere, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani issued an invitation Friday to convene in Irbil, capital of the Kurdish province he runs.

"The negotiations in Baghdad have reached a stage that could only be described as a crisis," Barzani said.

Kamal al-Saidi, a Shiite legislator in al-Jaafari's Dawa Party, said his bloc had no objection to going to Irbil, but "we want to know the reason behind this invitation."

Barzani's invitation was publicized moments before his fellow Kurd, President Jalal Talabani, issued a decree calling the new parliament into session March 19 for the first time since it was elected. The first meeting will set in motion a series of deadlines for forming a government.

"There is a serious crisis, and if we don't agree on a government of national unity there will be dangerous consequences, a catastrophe. We could have civil war," Talabani said in an interview with al-Arabiya television.

As if to underline Talabani's concerns, police and the U.S. military reported at least 20 more killings Friday, including a U.S. Marine who died in a car bombing in Fallujah.

At least 2,306 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians.