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Senior Provincial Officials Abducted In Iraq --> 8 January 2005 -- Militants in Iraq have abducted three senior provincial officials near Latifiyah, south of Baghdad.

Salahudin Province Governor Hamad Hummoud says the three, including Salahudin's deputy governor (Khatan Hamada), were heading for a meeting yesterday in Al-Najaf with Iraq's most prominent Shi'a leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. They were to discuss national elections scheduled for 30 January.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush acknowledged that militant attacks could disrupt the voting, especially in four of Iraq's provinces.

Bush, however, expressed optimism about the polls.

"I think elections will be such an incredibly hopeful experience for the Iraqi people," Bush said. "Remember, these are people that lived in a society where if they didn't toe the line of the leadership, they'd be tortured or killed or maimed."

The U.S. military, meanwhile, says coalition forces recently detained a militant leader linked to Jordanian-born extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In a statement today, the U.S. said Abdul Aziz Sa'dun Ahmed Hamduni -- also known as Abu Ahmed -- was a key figure in the Abu Talha militant group based in the northern city of Mosul.

Washington says al-Zarqawi -- who has links to Al-Qaeda -- is its top enemy in Iraq.

(news agencies)

For more on events in Iraq, see RFE/RL's dedicated The New Iraq webpage.