Iraqi Party Urges Sunnis to Defend Themselves

A leading Sunni Arab party Tuesday urged fellow Sunnis to confront armed attacks on their community following a raid on a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad in which three men were killed and more than 20 abducted.

Meanwhile, two German engineers were kidnapped Tuesday north of Baghdad by gunmen in two cars, German officials and police said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the government was doing "everything in our power so that we not only receive information, but the hostages will be returned to us safely."

The U.S. military also said a roadside bombing in Baghdad killed two U.S. soldiers Monday and two Marines died in a vehicle accident west of the capital.

The call for Sunnis to defend themselves was made in a statement issued by the Iraqi Islamic Party a day after gunmen, some wearing uniforms of the Shiite-led government security forces, swept into the Toubji area of Baghdad, raiding houses, abducting males and shooting three men dead.

An Interior Ministry official denied police involvement, saying an investigation is underway and the gunmen may have been disguised as commandos.

Allegations by Sunni Arabs of alleged abuses by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry will complicate talks among political parties to form a coalition government so U.S. and other foreign troops can go home.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, a partner in a Sunni coalition that won 44 of the 275 seats in last month's election, urged Sunnis to brace for more sectarian attacks.

"In every case, the security authorities deny any responsibility of what has happened," the statement said. "Any pretext by the government is unacceptable, so we call upon all reasonable Iraqis to do their best to stop the bloodshed and prevent more deterioration in security."

The statement said such raids "should be confronted by any suitable means to defend the souls, honor and money" of Sunnis.

The major Sunni clerical group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, blamed the Toubji raid on the Interior Ministry and called "for a halt to such immoral violations and the release of all detainees immediately."

In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, Sunni leaders have called for a three-day strike to condemn the killings of at least 31 Sunnis who were kidnapped from their bus last week after being rejected entry into the police academy.

Their bodies started turning up in farmland near the city of Dujail, north of Baghdad, after a squad of armed men stopped their bus on a country back road before executing them. At least four of the men remain unaccounted for.

It was unclear who was behind those kidnappings and killings. Sunni Arab insurgents routinely target Iraq's fledgling security forces in a bid to derail the U.S.-led occupation.

Late Monday, a senior official of a government organization that administers Sunni mosques was slain by gunmen as he drove home from evening prayers at a Baghdad mosque. Naji Mohammed al-Eithaw, 55, had served as a spokesman for the Sunni Endowments and was a regular contributor to Baghdad newspapers.

The kidnapped Germans worked at a detergent plant near the oil refinery in Beiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad. They were seized by gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms, said police Capt. Falah al-Janabi.

Police have set up checkpoints throughout the area to find the hostages.

In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Thomas de Maiziere, said the two were young men from Leipzig but did not give their names. Steinmeier said a special crisis team had been set up and he was being "constantly updated on the situation."

The first German kidnapped in Iraq was Susanne Osthoff, an aid worker and archaeologist who disappeared with her Iraqi driver in northern Iraq on Nov. 25. Her release was announced Dec. 18.

German media have widely speculated the government paid a ransom to secure Osthoff's release. The government has persistently refused to comment, saying only that it does not pay ransoms.

There also was still no word on the fate of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll, who was abducted in Baghdad on Jan. 7. Iraqi officials said joint U.S.-Iraqi operations were carried out recently to free her, but they provided no details.

Carroll, a freelance journalist for The Christian Science Monitor, has not been heard of since her kidnappers released a videotape first aired on Jan. 17. It included a threat to kill her unless all female detainees were freed.

Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said six of the nine Iraqi women in U.S. custody were expected to be freed this week as part of a routine release planned before the kidnappers' ultimatum. There has been no U.S. confirmation, but Ali said he believed the Americans were wary about the releases being seen as part of a swap for Carroll.

More than 250 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq, either by insurgents or gangs, since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam. At least 39 have been killed.

The deaths of the four U.S. soldiers Monday brought the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to at least 2,235, according to an Associated Press count.

In other violence:

— A roadside bomb near the northern city of Kirkuk killed one civilian and wounded four Tuesday, police said.

— Gunmen killed an official with the Kurdistan Democratic Party as he was driving to work Monday east of Mosul, said party spokesman Abdul Ghani Yahya.