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U.S. Forces Close Highways Around Baghdad --> 17 April 2004 -- The U.S. military today closed highways north and south of Baghdad, saying continued guerrilla attacks have made them unsafe for civilian use.

The decision came hours after U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to remain united in the fight to eliminate violence in Iraq.

"The 30 June date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept," Bush said, vowing not to "waver in the face of fear and intimidation." "This transfer will demonstrate to the Iraqi people that our coalition has no interest in occupation. On that date, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist, but coalition forces will remain in Iraq to help the new government succeed."

Meanwhile, two Japanese hostages were freed today in Baghdad. The two freelance journalists were apparently kidnapped on 14 April.

A U.S. soldier reportedly remains in the captivity of armed militants looking to secure the release of prisoners captured by the U.S.-led coalition. A video of the soldier, reservist Keith Matthew Maupin, was broadcast yesterday by Al-Jazeera. In the video, Maupin identifies himself as one of two U.S. soldiers who were reported missing after an attack on a convoy outside Baghdad on 9 April.

"The 30 June date for the transfer of sovereignty will be kept." -- U.S. President George W. Bush
Members of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council today condemned a military response to the insurgency that has pitted Sunni and Shi'a Muslims against U.S. and coalition forces in recent weeks. "Adopting the military option to solve the current conflict is a failed option." said Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, a spokesman for the Islamic Da'wah Party, which has participated in talks with Shi'a militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

A Sunni leader on the Governing Council, Nasir Kamil Chadirchi, also criticized the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq for "taking decisions on its own," which he said has led to "making many mistakes in decisions related to the political future of Iraq."

Following his meeting with Blair in Washington, Bush said: "We welcome the proposals presented by the UN Special Envoy [Lakhdar] Brahimi. He's identified a way forward to establishing an interim government that is broadly acceptable to the Iraqi people. Our coalition partners will continue to work with the UN to prepare for nationwide elections that will choose a new government in January of 2005."

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte said in remarks to the UN Security Council yesterday that a multinational force is needed to bolster an increasingly important UN role in Iraq's political transition. "I do not overstate the broad desire within the international community for the United Nations to return to Iraq to play an expansive, robust, and vital role, in particular after the 30 June transition," Negroponte said.