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Civilian contractor Roy Allison Hallums, an American, was rescued by coalition forces in Iraq and is in good condition, a military spokesman confirmed Wednesday. Hallums, who was kidnaped at gunpoint from his employer's office in Baghdad last Nov. 1, was being held at an isolated farm about 15 miles from the capital, along with an unidentified Iraqi. Information leading to their rescue was provided by a detainee in US custody, the spokesman said.

US troops pulled out of the city of Najaf and handed the responsibility for its security to Iraqi forces in another step toward the hoped-for mass withdrawal from the troubled country next spring. Against that backdrop, interim President Jalal Talabani told an interviewer on state TV Tuesday that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein had confessed to ordering "al-Anfal and the executions," a reference to a campaign against Kurds in the 1980s in which more than 100,000 people died and many villages were destroyed. He didn't say whether he meant that Hussein had acknowledged only being head of state and commander of the military at the time of the campaign. Talabani, who is Kurdish, also said Hussein deserved "a death sentence 20 times a day" for attempting 20 times to have him killed.

In one of the most serious challenges to date for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, masked militants in the Gaza Strip stormed the home of its former security chief, Moussa Arafat, and shot him to death. One of his sons was kidnaped in the attack, for which a group calling itself the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility. The elder Arafat, a cousin of the late Yasser Arafat, had been relieved of his post in April but remained an adviser to Abbas. Abbas vowed to track down the attackers and said the murder would not prevent him from trying to restore law and order to Gaza. But the incident appeared almost certain to aggravate tensions there as various Palestinian factions struggle for supremacy. Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian and wounded three others who invaded an abandoned Jewish settlement in Gaza. Israel has demanded that Abbas prevent such incursions before the expected formal handover of Gaza next week.

For the first time, Egyptians went to the polls Wednesday for a contested presidential election, even though it was expected to return Hosni Mubarak to office for a fifth six-year term. But with voting still in its early hours, elections monitors reported abuses and other irregularities, and, in Cairo, protesters calling for a boycott were beaten and their signs ripped by unidentified attackers.

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