About 500 members of Iraq's police and army on Monday swept through buildings in the Rashid neighbourhood, along with a couple of hundred American soldiers, detaining 65 people who were suspected of being anti-US fighters, Lieutenant-Colonel Clifford Kent of the US army's 3rd Infantry Division said.

One Iraqi soldier suffered injuries, but no American casualties were reported in the largest joint US-Iraqi raid in Iraq's capital since 27 February, he said.

One suspected fighter was also being treated for wounds, the military said in a statement.

At least three civilians were also injured, according to Ammar Fuad, a doctor at the hospital where they were taken.

Car bomb

Also on Monday in Samarra, two Iraqis were killed and 14 others injured in a car bomb blast that targeted a US military patrol.

Medical sources, however, could not immediately say whether there had been any US casualties.

Iraq meanwhile continued to witness anti-American protests, and the latest demonstration was staged in Baquba, 60km northeast of Baghdad.

Demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans and demanded a US pullout from the country. 

Protesters in Baquba want US
troops to leave the country

Tens of thousands gathered on Saturday in Baghdad to call for US-led troops to leave, and more demonstrations were held on Sunday.

An Iraqi Defence Ministry official said on Monday that security forces had arresed a person who claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two French journalists who were abducted and later released in Iraq.

Iraqi soldiers detained Amr Husain Shaikhan in the Mahmudiya area on 4 April, the official said. No further details were available.

Journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were released in December after four months in captivity.

Diplomat missing

In other developments, a Pakistani government official said on Monday a group claiming to have kidnapped a Pakistani diplomat in Iraq had demanded money for his release.

Malik Muhammad Javid, a deputy counsellor at the Pakistani mission in Baghdad, went missing late on Saturday after leaving home for prayers at a nearby mosque.

Kidnappers of Malik Muhammad
Javid have demanded ransom

Pakistan, a key US ally in the "war against terror", has refused to deploy peacekeepers and has urged its citizens to avoid coming to Iraq.

In another kidnapping, an American contractor was seized near Baghdad on Monday, a US embassy spokesman said.

   

Embassy spokesman Bob Callaghan said the contractor, who was working on a reconstruction project, was taken captive in the greater Baghdad area.

   

"No group has claimed responsibility. We have contacted the Iraqi authorities to try and find him," he said. 

 

Legislative business

Legislators pressed ahead with business as members of the 275-member National Assembly met to hear proposed rules for governing the lawmaking body.

Husain al-Sadr, a lawmaker from the coalition of outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, said the group had decided to participate in the government, adding that the participation had to be a "real and effective one and not a nominal one".

He said the coalition was demanding four ministerial posts, including one of the main ministries. "If our demands are not met, then we will lead the opposition in the parliament," he said.

Ali al-Dabagh, a legislator from the Shia-led United Iraq Alliance, said he thought the demands were unrealistic.

Najaf meeting

Meanwhile, one of Iraq's two interim vice-presidents - former interim president Ghazi al-Yawir, a Sunni Arab - has met Grand Ayat Allah Ali al-Sistani, a leading Shia religious leader who called on voters to cast ballots on 30 January.

Al-Yawar said he met al-Sistani
in Najaf on Monday to thank him

"We came as a delegation to thank Mr al-Sistani for his great work and insistence that led to the success of the elections and formation of a national assembly," al-Yawir said after the 90-minute meeting in Najaf on Monday.

The previous day, the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed to have kidnapped and killed Najaf police officer Brigadier-General Basim Muhammad Qadhim al-Jazari while he was visiting Baghdad.

Iraqi Interior Ministry official Captain Ahmad Ismail said al-Jazari was kidnapped in western Baghdad late on Saturday along with his nephew, but he had no other details.

Separately, the Iraqi government announced on Sunday that security forces had arrested Ibrahim Sabawi, son of the half brother of ousted president Saddam Hussein, near Baghdad. The statement said Sabawi was close to the former government.

"Until his arrest, he had been supporting terrorists and providing them with finances," it said.