An American hostage pleaded for his life with a rifle pointed at his head in a video released Tuesday, while nine Iraqis, including a senior judge, were killed in a series of attacks that highlighted the security risks ahead of this weekend's elections.
On a day that the U.S. military said six American soldiers had died, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi also said the time was not right to talk of a U.S. troop withdrawal. Iraq must first build up its security forces to confront the insurgents, Allawi said.
In the video, hostage Roy Hallums spoke slowly, rubbing his hands as he sat with the barrel of the rifle inches from his head. He said he had been arrested by a "resistance group" because "I have worked with American forces." He appealed to Arab leaders, including Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, to save his life.
Hallums, 56, was seized Nov. 1 along with Filipino Robert Tarongoy during an armed assault on their compound in Baghdad's Mansour district. The two worked for a Saudi company that does catering for the Iraqi army. The Filipino was not shown.
"I am please asking for help because my life is in danger because it's been proved I worked for American forces," the bearded Hallums said. "I'm not asking for any help from President Bush because I know of his selfishness and unconcern for those who've been pushed into this hellhole."
Hallums said he was asking for help from "Arab rulers especially President Moammar Gadhafi because he's known for helping those who are suffering."
In December, his wife, Susan Hallums of Corona, Calif., said she had not heard from the kidnappers, but she pleaded for his life. She is separated from her husband, who is the father of their two daughters.
A statement that surfaced Tuesday in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq called for more kidnappings and attacks before Sunday's elections.
The call, made on a Web site known for its Islamic militant content, could not be authenticated. Militants have used the site to claim responsibility for attacks and to condemn the Iraqi government and U.S.-led forces in Iraq. Less often, they have made such direct appeals for violence.
"Enemies of God such as the Americans and their agents, the hypocrites and the apostates, are attempting to make the infidel elections succeed at the end of the month," the statement said. To that end, it said, "the headquarters of the Islamic Army in Iraq is giving its orders to all troops affiliated with it everywhere to escalate their operations to the maximum."
Officials have warned of a surge in violence around the elections, which insurgents have vowed to disrupt.
At least 10 Americans have been taken hostage, but only one has been freed or escaped.
Fighting erupted Tuesday in Baghdad's eastern Rashad neighborhood as police fired on insurgents who were handing out leaflets warning people not to vote.
About the same time in the same neighborhood, insurgents fired on police who were checking on a possible car bomb.
Another bomb blew off the gate of a secondary school in the neighborhood and gunmen opened fire on Iraqi and U.S. forces responding to the blast.
In all, three policemen were killed and nine were wounded in the clashes, according to an official at Kindi Hospital. Two insurgents died and a shopkeeper also was killed in the crossfire. Earlier, officials reported 11 policemen were killed and offered no explanation for the revised toll.
Elsewhere, gunmen killed two Iraqi army soldiers on patrol west of Baghdad, witnesses said.
The slain judge was identified as Qais Hashim Shameri, secretary general of the judges council in the Justice Ministry. Assailants sprayed his car with bullets, also killing his driver and wounding a bodyguard.
The Ansar al-Sunnah Army, one of Iraq's most active insurgent groups, claimed responsibility. In a Web posting, it called him "one of the heads of infidelity and apostasy of the new Iraqi government."
Assailants also shot and killed a man who worked for a district council in western Baghdad as he was on his way to work, police said.
In a third ambush, gunmen firing from a speeding car wounded three staffers from the Communications Ministry heading to work, police Lt. Iyman Abdul-Hamid said.
Attackers also shot and killed the son of an Iraqi translator working with U.S. troops, police said.
A police colonel was gunned down Monday, along with his 5-year-old daughter, as he was driving in southern Baghdad, officials said. Col. Nadir Hassan was in charge of police protecting electric power facilities in two provinces flanking the capital.
Northeast of Baghdad, a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled into a canal during a combat patrol, killing five American soldiers from the Army's 1st Infantry Division and wounding two others, the military said Tuesday. The accident, which was under investigation, occurred near the town of Khan Bani Saad during fierce sandstorms Monday night.
Another U.S. soldier died of wounds from a roadside bomb that blasted an American patrol in Baghdad, the military added.
Speaking to reporters, Allawi said U.S. troops could not be withdrawn until Iraq builds up its security forces.
"Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces," he said. "I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people."
"I will not set final dates" for the withdrawal of international forces "because setting final dates will be futile and dangerous," Allawi said.
There has been speculation that the new Iraqi government to be chosen after the weekend elections might ask the Americans to begin negotiations for their departure — as demanded by Sunni Arab insurgents as well as members of the Sunni clergy. However, none of the major political figures contesting the election has publicly called for such a step.
Bush discussed the elections Tuesday with Allawi, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, the latest in a series of consultations about the vote.
Iraqis are to choose a 275-member National Assembly and legislatures in each of the 18 provinces. Voters in the Kurdish-ruled area of the north also will elect a regional parliament.
Many Sunni Arabs are expected to boycott the elections, either in opposition to the process or for fear of reprisals.
On Tuesday, militants handed out flyers in Baghdad promising that rebels would attack voters and shower polling stations with bombs, mortar fire and rockets. The leaflets, which didn't bear the name of any militant group, warned that "those who dare to stand in the lines of death to participate in the elections will be responsible for the consequences that will be heavy."
"He will not be able to imagine what will happen to him and his family for taking part in this crusaders' conspiracy to occupy the land of Islam," the flyers said.
In other violence, gunmen in northern Iraq kidnapped a senior official in the Iraqi Communist Party, Mohammed Nouri Aqrawi, in the city of Mosul, a party official said.
Attackers blasted a school to be used as a polling station with machine gun fire in the central city of Diwaniyah, but no one was hurt, a Polish military spokesman said.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the abuse of detainees by Iraq's fledgling, U.S.-trained security forces.
With few exceptions, Iraqi authorities have not acted to stop the mistreatment, the report said. International police advisers, largely funded by Washington, "have turned a blind eye to these rampant abuses," it said.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 90 detainees in Iraq, of whom 72 claimed to have been tortured or abused.
The Iraqi government acknowledged abuses and said it had launched its own inquiry.
"We are sure that there are violations in these prisons, but not so serious. The investigation is still under way," said Husham al-Suhail, an official in Iraq's Human Rights Ministry.