U.S. troops have launched new raids around the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, arresting suspected insurgents and seizing weapons in an effort to secure the city for the January 30th vote.

South of Mosul, in Samarra, at least three Iraqi soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing today (Thursday). And further south, in Basra, several British troops and Iraqi civilians were injured in an explosion near a British base.

Meanwhile, British and Swedish officials are trying to confirm an Internet posting from a militant group (Army of Ansar al-Sunna) which claims to have kidnapped and killed a Briton and a Swede near the city of Beiji. In the same area Wednesday, officials said a Briton and an Iraqi were killed after their car was ambushed. A Brazilian is also missing.

And Chinese officials are working to win the release of eight Chinese hostages whose kidnappers have threatened to execute them today (Thursday).

Terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has apparently surfaced in an audiotape on the Internet, seeking to further divide Iraq's Sunnis and Shi'ites 10 days before national elections.

The 75-minute-long statement took aim at the country's ascendant Shi'ites, who are expected to win a majority of seats in the transitional assembly.

In the tape, Zarqawi accuses their highest religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, of approving November's U.S.-led invasion to crush insurgents hiding in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah. He also accuses Shi'ites of killing innocents in Fallujah, and claims they fought alongside 800 Israeli soldiers as well as Jordanian troops.

The authenticity of the tape has not been established.

Many of Fallujah's residents fled ahead of November's offensive. The U.S. military said today (Thursday) that the city is now completely reopened and a little more than half of its residents have returned.