Armed men kidnapped three relatives of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and fierce fighting broke out in several Iraqi cities Wednesday as insurgents strove to open fronts away from the U.S. military assault on Fallujah.
Allawi's first cousin Ghazi Allawi, 74, and two female relatives were abducted from their Baghdad home Tuesday night after a brief gun battle with bodyguards assigned to the family, according to a spokesman for the prime minister's office.
An Islamic militant group later posted a warning that the three faced execution in 48 hours unless Allawi ordered U.S. and Iraqi troops out of Fallujah. Allawi's office issued statements refusing the demand.
"This action is another of the terrorists' crimes and will not weaken the will of the government to fight terrorism to achieve peace and stability in a free and democratic Iraq," said another Allawi spokesman, Thaer Hasan Naqib.
The kidnapping came as insurgents launched attacks on the outskirts of Baghdad and in at least three cities in the area known as the Sunni Triangle north and west of the capital.
In the northern city of Mosul, the governor imposed a curfew and closed all bridges after gunmen attacked at least two police stations. Machine-gun fire and explosions were heard across the city, Iraq's third largest, after a convoy was ambushed and then followed to a nearby police station. There was no immediate word on casualties.
A curfew was also imposed in Baiji, also in the north, after nine people were reported killed and 24 wounded in fighting that erupted Tuesday night, according to the Reuters news agency.
A Turkish truck driver was killed and his rig burned outside the town. He was the fourth Turkish trucker killed this week by insurgents who say they are punishing them for carrying supplies to U.S. bases.
Intense fighting was also reported between U.S. forces and insurgents in central Ramadi, located 30 miles west of Fallujah and long a center of insurgent activity.
In Baghdad, large bands of armed men clashed with Iraqi police and National Guardsmen in neighborhoods on the southern and western fringes of the city. Also, a U.S. soldier was killed while on patrol, the military announced.
In Dora, on the southern edge of the city, residents said insurgents ambushed police and held a large area overnight until National Guard reinforcements arrived. Witnesses also reported that armed men were holding a bridge in the Ghazailiyah section of western Baghdad during the day Wednesday.
And witnesses reported seeing masked men handing out rocket-propelled grenades on a street in Mahmudiyah, a town about 15 miles south of Baghdad where Iraqi security forces and travelers have come under frequent attack.
After nightfall, a massive car bomb was detonated by remote control outside a restaurant frequented by police officers on the capital's east side. Police said at least five bodies were recovered at the scene, and dozens of wounded were hospitalized.
"I saw police in the cars surrounding us, all of them dead," said a woman who survived the blast.
Blue and white police vehicles routinely gathered at the restaurant in numbers that had led neighbors to warn its owner that his business was putting the entire area at risk, residents said. After the attack, survivors berated the owner along with the perpetrators.
One man, who survived without a scratch while sitting inside a white Peugeot sedan that was a total loss, announced: "God saved me! God saved me! I need to go and slaughter a sheep in thanks for my safety."
Iraq's interim government announced that Baghdad's international airport would remain closed for an additional 24 hours. Allawi closed the airport when he announced he had approved an assault on Fallujah, located about 25 miles west of the airport and beneath commercial flight paths.