On Friday the car bomber blew himself up next to a police patrol in a commercial area on al-Kifah street, killing three Iraqi civilians and injuring two police officers, Lieutenant Ali Mitaab said.

The mortar landed in Baghdad's Shourja market and killed three Iraqi civilians and injured 21 others, police Lieutenant Thaer Mahmoud said. The market was closed because of the Friday holiday.

Also, two US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, one in the western city of Falluja and the other one in the capital, the military said on Friday.

A bomb killed one soldier on Friday in Baghdad when it struck his vehicle as it was on patrol in the southern part of the capital, an announcement said. The second soldier died on Thursday in Falluja after being wounded by small arms fire while on combat operations.

On Thursday, an international team agreed to assess Iraq's parliamentary elections, and on Friday leaders of Iraq's Sunni and secular communities gave a cautious welcome to the plan to bring foreign experts to Baghdad to review the results of this month's election, which they say was fraudulent.

They said they would cooperate with the experts and still hoped to join Shias and Kurds in a grand coalition government capable of healing Iraq's sectarian wounds and providing its people with the basic services they so badly lack.

Free and fair

"It is important that the Iraqi people have confidence in the election results and that the voting process, including the process for vote counting, is free and fair," Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, said on Thursday.
 
The UN team was coming despite a UN observer's endorsement of the 15 December vote, which gave the Shia religious bloc a big lead in preliminary returns.

Initial reports have given Shia
and Kurdish parties a big lead

The observer, Craig Jenness, said on Wednesday that his team - which helped the Iraqi election commission organise and oversee the poll - found the elections to be credible and transparent.

Sunni Arabs and secular Shias rejected Jenness' findings, saying their concerns - which included political assassinations before the elections - were not addressed.

The Iraqi Accordance Front, which is the country's leading Sunni Arab group, applauded the decision, as did the secular Iraqi National List headed by Iyad Allawi, the former interim prime minister.
 
It was unclear if the review would further delay the release of final results, now expected in early January.

The presence of two Arab experts on the International Mission for Iraqi Elections team could go far in helping to convince Iraqis that the review of the vote will be fair.

Korean pullout

Meanwhile, South Korea's parliament has approved a government plan to bring home one-third of the country's troops in Iraq but extended the overall deployment for another year.
 
The plan endorsed on Friday calls for the withdrawal of about 1000 of the 3200 South Korean military personnel who are helping rebuild a Kurdish area of northern Iraq.

South Korea will withdraw about
1000 of its military personnel

In other developments, the daughter and brother of a French engineer taken hostage in Iraq pleaded for his release in an interview with an Arab TV news channel broadcast on Friday.
 
Bernard Planche, who worked for a non-governmental organisation called AACCESS, was kidnapped on 5 December on his way to work at a Baghdad water plant.

His daughter Isabelle said on Al-Arabiya network: "He came to help the reconstruction for the Iraqi people. We have faith and are sure that you won't hurt him.

"Please free him. He's my father and I love him," she said, sitting alongside Planche's brother, Gilles.

Excerpts of the interview were aired on French TV.

Plea for release

Captors on Wednesday released a first video of Planche - shown sitting between two armed men - and denounced the "illegal French presence" in Iraq, Al-Arabiya reported.

Planche was seized on his way to
work in Baghdad on 5 December

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called on Thursday for the immediate release of Planche, stressing that France has no military presence in Iraq.

On Thursday, armed men kidnapped a Lebanese engineer in Iraq, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Camile Nassif Tannous, who works for the Schneider engineering firm, was kidnapped "in Iraq in the past few hours", the statement said, giving no further details.

The statement added that the Lebanese charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Hassan Hijazi, had been instructed to make "the necessary contacts" to secure Tannous' release.