BAGHDAD, Iraq – A U.S. Muslim group appealed Saturday for the release of American journalist Jill Carroll as a deadline set by kidnappers passed with no word on her fate. At least 12 Iraqis died in bombings and shootings nationwide.
Sunni Arab politicians, meanwhile, said they were ready for talks to join a new government of national unity, which the United States considers a necessary step to curb the Sunni-led insurgency and pave the way for American forces to go home. A top Shiite said the Sunni Arabs could join the government only if they agreed to help combat the insurgency.
Sunni politicians also said they would appeal results of the Dec. 15 election to a judicial commission, which has two weeks to rule on the challenges. The appeals are unlikely to affect the results but could delay the convening of parliament.
Two members of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations flew to Baghdad on Saturday to seek the release of Carroll, a 28-year-old freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad.
"We are the only people who have come from outside of Iraq to call for Jill's release and we are very hopeful they will hear our message on behalf of American Muslims," the group's executive director, Nihad Awad, said at Baghdad International Airport. "Harming her will do them no good at all. The only way is to release her."
The delegation had hoped to meet with Iraqi Muslims to explore ways to win the journalist's freedom. But the representatives were unable to obtain safe transport into the city and instead spoke by telephone with Iraqi figures.
They planned to return to neighboring Jordan on Sunday, but a sandstorm threatened to stop all flights and leave them stranded.
Carroll was leaving the office of prominent Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi when her car was waylaid, her translator was killed and she was abducted. The driver escaped.
The journalist has since been seen only in footage obtained and aired by Al-Jazeera TV station Tuesday. Her kidnappers, identified as a previously unknown group called "The Revenge Brigade," threatened to kill Carroll if all Iraqi female prisoners were not released within 72 hours.
Maj. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal said "intensive and earnest efforts" were under way to find the kidnappers, who have issued no word since the deadline passed Friday night. An Iraqi official said six of the nine women under U.S. detention were expected to be released this week. The U.S. did not confirm the release plans.
The official, Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali, said the releases and ongoing investigations for the other three women had been tentatively planned before the kidnappers' ultimatum.
"I am making some contacts with the American side to hasten their release because this action might help hastening the release of the kidnapped journalist," Ali told The Associated Press.
More than 240 foreigners have been taken hostage — either by insurgents or gangs — since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. At least 39 have been killed.
News of another high-profile abduction surfaced Saturday when footage of Hussein Sabah, the son of the secretary to Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni, aired on al-Arabiya TV station.
The kidnappers of Sabah, who was abducted about 10 days ago in Baghdad's Mansour suburb, demanded that the Iraqi government end its cooperation with United States.
A U.S. official said Shiite politicians recognized the need to include minority Sunnis in the new government. But the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Sunni Arab leaders must denounce insurgent violence and ensure that rebel groups lay down their arms.
A key Shiite leader, Hussain al-Shahristani, told the British Broadcasting Corp., that Sunni Arabs would be welcome in a new government if they agreed "not only to condemn terrorism" but to "work with us in combatting" it.
Coalition talks are expected to begin in earnest following Friday's announcement of election results. The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance captured 128 of the 275 seats — not enough to rule without partners.
Two Sunni coalitions won a total of 55 seats, far more than the 17 held by Sunnis in the outgoing parliament.
"We believe in the necessity of forming a national unity government that includes everybody," Adnan al-Dulaimi told reporters. "No government would be able to lead the country without our participation."
Saleh al-Mutlaq, leader of another Sunni ticket, said he also was ready to start talks on a new government.
Despite hopes for peace, violence continued.
A car bomb exploded midday near a crowded market in eastern Baghdad, killing one person, according to police. Three policemen were killed in a car bombing in Baqouba 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, authorities said. Eight other Iraqis were killed in a series of small-scale attacks across the country.
Meanwhile, about 300 Iraqi and U.S. troops also raided a clutch of houses along the Tigris River south of Baghdad, arresting two men accused of involvement in an explosives-trafficking ring and five others said to have kidnapped and killed Iraqis and coalition forces.