Allawi's cousin freed as death toll rises

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Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, was boosted by the news yesterday that kidnappers had released his cousin, but countrywide unrest underlined escalating chaos and violence.

Street battles in Ramadi left eight Iraqi national guardsmen and several civilians dead, while unidentified corpses piled up in the streets further north in Mosul, and bomb blasts shook the capital, Baghdad.

A source in Mr Allawi's office said Ghazi Allawi, 75, had been released nearly two weeks after a previously unknown Islamist group seized him, his wife and daughter-in-law in Baghdad. The women were released a week ago. The group had threatened to kill all three unless Mr Allawi's government called off the US-led assault on the rebel-held city of Fallujah.

Insurgents launched a deadly ambush in the guerrilla stronghold of Ramadi, killing eight Iraqi guardsmen and injuring 18 others, police said. The Iraqi forces were on patrol in the city centre when gunmen opened fire on their convoy.

In Mosul, Iraq's third city, the bodies of three men killed by insurgents were left lying on a street yesterday, a day after US troops found the corpses of nine Iraqi soldiers. All 12 had been shot in the back of the head.

In Baghdad, four large explosions shook the area near the US-guarded Green Zone after sunset, but there were no reports of casualties.

Meanwhile, the interim administration in Baghdad received a financial boost as the Paris Club of creditor nations agreed to cancel 80 per cent of the debt owed its members.

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