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Fighting continues in Baghdad's Shiite slum

U.S. warplanes pounded targets in a large Shiite Muslim slum in the eastern part of the capital early Thursday, part of an operation aimed at dismantling the militia loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The attacks Thursday killed at least one person and injured 12, according to hospital officials.

Although Shiite insurgents in the holy city of Najaf have been largely quiet since a truce between al-Sadr's militia and U.S. and Iraq forces was reached there a month ago, clashes have continued in the Baghdad slum known as Sadr City. U.S. authorities say they are eager to restart reconstruction projects in the neighborhood but have been hampered by the continued violence.

Oil official assassinated

BAGHDAD _ A senior oil official who had survived two assassination attempts was shot and killed Thursday morning in the northern city of Mosul.

The official, Sana Toma Suleiman, deputy director of the oil products department in Nineveh province for the North Oil Co., was killed at 7:30 a.m. after leaving his home to go to work, police and neighbors said. Insurgents have been tenacious in attacking the oil infrastructure of Iraq and people crucial to the state-run industry. Last Saturday, gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying Muhammad Zibari, Suleiman's manager, and killed five of his bodyguards. Zibari escaped.

Hostage's brother criticizes U.S.

BAGHDAD _ The brother of a British hostage held by terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi accused the United States on Thursday of sabotaging efforts to save the captive's life, and the Italian government cast doubt on claims that two kidnapped Italian women have been slain.

Briton Kenneth Bigley, two American colleagues and the two Italians were seized in Baghdad this month. The Monotheism and Holy War group, led by Zarqawi, beheaded both Americans.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and U.S. officials insisted they would not yield to terrorists and quashed a statement by an Iraqi official that a female scientist would be released by Thursday, as demanded by Bigley's kidnappers.

Bigley's brother, Paul, accused the United States of wrecking efforts to save his brother.

"That was a shadow of light in a big, long, dark, damp, filthy, cold tunnel. Now this has been sabotaged," he told the BBC of the prospect of a prisoner release.

Italians, meanwhile, were clinging to hope for two kidnapped Italian aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, amid confusion over their fate. The women, both 29, were seized from their Baghdad office on Sept. 7.

Two groups have claimed to hold the women, demanding the withdrawal of Italian troops and the freeing of female prisoners. Both groups issued Web statements _ one Wednesday and one Thursday _ claiming they had killed the women because their demands had not been met.

But the Italian government cast doubt on the claims, calling them "unreliable."

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