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Algerian Diplomats Killed In Baghdad --> 27 July 2005 -- Algeria has confirmed that two of its diplomats in Iraq have been killed by their kidnappers.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's office said in a statement that the hostage takers had "cowardly assassinated" diplomats Ali Belaroussi and Azzedine Belkadi.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed in an Internet posting that they had killed the envoys because of their government's support for the United States.

In other developments, visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held talks in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. Al-Ja'fari said it is the "great desire" of the Iraqi people to see a reduction of coalition forces as the new Iraqi security forces take more responsibility.

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said today he believes U.S. troops could start pulling out of Iraq in the spring of 2006: "If the political process continues to go positively, and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe will still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer next year."

Meanwhile, the committee writing Iraq's new constitution said they will leave the decision on whether to call for a six- month delay until the last moment -- that is, the deadline of 1 August.

Rumsfeld today urged Iraqi leaders to move ahead with the process without delay.

(international agencies)