Meanwhile, a 1st Infantry Division soldier became the 900th U.S. military death in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003. The soldier was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in a Bradley fighting vehicle in Duluiyah, some 45 miles north of Baghdad.
Japan is holding firm on its troops, despite a threat posted on a web site that Japanese soldiers in Iraq will be killed by "lines of cars laden with explosives" unless the tiny peacekeeping force is sent home.
Separate threats were issued against Bulgaria and Poland, telling them to withdraw their troops from Iraq or the two countries will "pay the price" just like the United States and Spain did - a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington and the March 2004 train bombs in Madrid.
Bulgaria is also holding steady on its troops, despite a particularly tense situation due to two Bulgarian truck drivers having been taken hostage in Iraq. Reports that one of the hostages may have been executed have prompted some Bulgarian legislators and groups to demand Bulgaria bring its soldiers home. The fate of the second hostage is unknown.
"To the crusader Bulgarian government which is allying itself with the Americans and to the Bulgarian people we demand, for the last time, that you withdraw Bulgarian troops out of Iraq or we swear we will turn Bulgaria into pools of blood if you don't comply," said a statement attributed to the Tawhid Islamic Group, a previously unknown group that identifies itself as a European branch of al Qaeda.
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said last Friday he will not pull out the country's 480-strong infantry battalion from Iraq. Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said ys now that only its parliament can change the mandate of its troops regarding Iraq.
In other recent developments:
The Tawhid Islamic Group statement appeared Wednesday on an Islamic Web site known as a clearing house for al Qaeda and groups linked to the terror network. The authenticity of the statement and the group could not be verified.
The group also had a warning for Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka: "Pull your troops out of Iraq or you will hear the sounds of explosions that will hit your country, at the time we choose."
Poland, which hasn't commented yet, commands a 17-nation force in south-central Iraq and is required by a U.N. resolution to remain in Iraq until the end of 2005.
Monday, the Philippines pulled out its 51-member peacekeeping contingent a month ahead of schedule to spare the life of 46-year-old truck driver Angelo dela Cruz who had been kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq. Dela Cruz was released in Baghdad on Tuesday. The United States, Australia and their allies warned that the pullout would encourage kidnappers and endanger other members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
The decision by the Philippines to pull out its troops from Iraq on Monday apparently did lead to the release of hostage Angelo dela Cruz - and widespread celebrations in his homeland over his freedom.
But the Filipino military withdrawal has spared criticism from both Iraq and the U.S., on the grounds that cooperating with terrorists will endanger others.
"All of us know that if you appease terrorism, you will sooner or later fall victim to it or be taken over by it," Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, said during a visit to Bahrain.
More than 60 foreigners have been taken hostage in recent months.
Of those foreign workers kidnapped in recent months, some escaped, many were released and at least three were beheaded in gruesome videos designed to spread fear.
The terrorists, in their web site message, had a special warning for Muslims and anyone who supports Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi: "We are warning you for the last time: We will hit with an iron fist all those supporting the Americans or Allawi or his cronies."
Allawi has asked some Muslim countries to contribute troops, but so far none has come forward. Iraq's fledgling interim government relies heavily on the 160,000 coalition troops to fight the 15-month-old insurgency, which has used car bombings, assassinations, sabotage and other violence to try to create chaos and drive out foreign forces.