12 Nepalese taken hostage in Iraq by a group calling itself the Islamist Army of Ansar al-Sunna have been killed.

A statement was posted today on a website, together with graphic video showing the killings. Nepal has not sent any troops to Iraq despite pressure from Washington.

And in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, the city’s top education ministry official was assassinated, and three bodyguards and six policemen were wounded in a series of attacks.

Ibrahim Ismail was killed on the main road as he was heading to the technological institute south of the city. He was shot several times in the head when six attackers in a pick-up van sprayed his vehicle with gunfire.

Elsewhere, in Najaf, Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to field candidates in Iraq's elections and to campaign on a platform calling for the withdrawal of US forces.

Aides to the cleric said yesterday that he had ordered his Mehdi militia to end attacks on US and Iraqi government forces.