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Aid Organizations Jittery as Fighting, Kidnappings Shake Iraq

The U.S. and its allies fought against both Sunni and Shi'ite fighters in Iraq on Thursday. Following reports that foreign nationals were kidnapped by armed groups, German aid organizations are considering pulling out.

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Sunni fighters in Falluja, where 12 American soldiers died in fighting this week.

Coalition forces, including Bulgarian and Polish troops, were engaged in serious fighting with radical militias for the fourth day on Thursday, as armed groups kidnapped a number of foreign civilians, according to media reports.

The heavy fighting that has erupted across Iraq during the past week is the worst since the end of major combat operations in May 2003. Spurred on by radical Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, members of his militia took over the towns of Najaf and Kut, south of Baghdad. In heavy fighting beginning Wednesday, Ukrainian soldiers abandoned their base in Al Kut, suffering a casualty in the fighting.

Sunni radicals opened up another front of fighting against the Americans north of Baghdad in the cities of Ramadi and Falluja. Twelve Marines died in Ramadi after Sunni fighters attacked a U.S. base. Since fighting began four days ago, 35 U.S. and allied soldiers have died and hundreds of Iraqis killed.

Foreign governments nervous

The fighting has elicited strong statements of commitment from Washington, but made the governments of allied troops in Iraq nervous. Those concerns are likely to rise after reports that armed Iraqi groups kidnapped several foreign nationals on Thursday, warning they would kill them if their governments didn't pull out of Iraq.

Three Japanese citizens, one woman and two men, a Briton and eight Koreans were said kidnapped. One of the Japanese hostages was a freelance journalist, the other two were human rights workers. The Koreans, who were working for a church group, were reportedly relased later in the day.

A government spokesperson in Tokyo said he saw no reason to pull 550 Japanese troops, in Iraq on non-combat missions, out of the country.

Neutrality no longer guaranteed

German aid organizations said on Thursday that they were considering pulling their people out of the country. The group Aktion Deutschland Hilft (ADH), which encompasses several non-profit organizations, said they had already significantly reduced their activities in Iraq.

"We don't know how much longer our workers' neutrality can effectively protect them in this situation," said Hartmut Wilfert, a spokesman for ADH.

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