Four people were shot dead in Baghdad, and a bomb killed three people outside the house of the local correspondent for US-funded Radio Sawa in the southern town of Nassiriyah on Tuesday, security and medical sources said.

Two shop owners from the town of al-Mukhtadiya, near the northeastern city of Baquba, were also shot dead.

Another 29 people, 21 of them police, were wounded in bombings and shootings around the country.

A kidnapping scourge continued to sweep the capital on Tuesday as 15 gunmen abducted five employees from a currency exchange in western Baghdad's al-Harithiya district, stealing $60,000 and a school teacher was grabbed in a separate incident, the interior ministry said.

The abductions followed Monday's kidnapping of 16 men from an Iraqi trading company.

Bodies found

Earlier this month, 33 employees of a Baghdad security firm were seized by gunmen clad in Iraqi commando uniforms.

Meanwhile, the police also recovered 14 bodies of men in western Baghdad. The men had been shot. 

In the past 10 days about 170 corpses have been found across Iraq, believed to be a result of sectarian killings.

Faced with growing bloodshed and no government in sight more than three months after national elections, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders held a new round of talks on Tuesday at the home of Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president.

There was no word if the sides would meet again on Wednesday.
  
US accused

The dominant Shia United Iraqi Alliance had skipped Monday's talks in protest at a raid by US-backed Iraqi special forces in Baghdad the previous night that left at least 16 Shias dead.

Talabani ordered an investigation
into the raid that left 16 dead

Issuing a statement condemning US forces for what it said was the massacre of Shias in a mosque, the UIA accused US-led forces of collaborating with death squads thought to be responsible for many sectarian killings.
 
The US military dismissed the UIA account of events, including the alleged killings in a mosque.

Senior commanders said that the Iraqi special forces raided an office complex in northeast Baghdad on Sunday, killing 16 insurgents and freeing a hostage.

A US military spokesman said: "The intelligence that was gathered prior to the operation did  not identify the complex as anything other than a kidnapping cell  that was operating and the hostage that was freed is further testament of the use of the complex."

Investigation

Senior Iraqi leaders expressed surprise and bafflement at the raid.

Talabani, a staunch US ally, called it a "dangerous" incident and promised to lead an investigation himself.

Lieutenant-General Peter Chiarelli, the number two US commander in Iraq, said: "It was co-ordinated through military channels, but not every single operation we run is co-ordinated with every politician."

The Iraqi defence ministry also distanced itself from the operation. 

In Tuesday's daily Al-Zaman, Lieutenant-General Abdel Aziz Mohammed Jasim, the director of operations, said his ministry did not know about the operation.