Rebels mounted attacks to scare people away from the polls in Iraq's landmark Jan. 30 elections as a two-day deadline for the execution of eight Chinese nationals was due to expire yesterday.
A Brazilian national was reported missing after an ambush north of Baghdad by rebels who killed a Briton and his Iraqi colleague.
Insurgents intensified their intimidation campaign as the Al-Qaeda linked Army of Ansar al-Sunna released footage purporting to show the execution of two Iraqis working for a US company on preparations for the vote.
The latest gruesome displays followed a seven-car bomb rampage around the country on Wednesday that claimed the lives of 20 people and targeted the country's army and police, who have lost more than 1,300 men to insurgent attacks.
Rebels are betting a wave of bloodshed will discredit the coun-try's first free elections in half a century and the first since the downfall of former president Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.
Meanwhile, China was counting on an association of Muslim clerics, with reputed links to the insur-gency, to save their eight nationals held hostage, as the deadline for their execution neared.
Diplomats from China's embassy in Baghdad were in talks with the Committee of Muslim Scholars and its chairman Harith Al-Dhari, who helped in the release of seven Chinese taken hostage last April, the Xinhua news agency said.
"All of the Iraqi people know the attitude of the Chinese people toward the Iraqi issue, and I am optimistic that the kidnapped Chinese will be released soon," the chairman said in Baghdad.
"As long as the kidnappers claim themselves to be an Islamic party, I feel that the lives of the kidnapped are not in danger," he said.
Dhari's organization issued a statement "calling on all the kidnapping powers to release all those held hostage in Iraq" to mark the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adhha.
Kidnappers released footage on Tuesday to the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera of the eight hostages holding Chinese passports and standing against a mud brick wall flanked by two masked gunmen.
They were seized last week as they made their way to Jordan.
The US military confirmed a Brazilian national went missing during a rebel ambush that killed a Briton and his Iraqi colleague.
The statement came after British firm Janusian Security Risk Man-agement announced that a Briton and an Iraqi employee were shot dead on Wednesday near Baiji, and that a third foreigner went missing.
Playing on the fear factor ahead of elections, the Army of Ansar al-Sunna posted video footage on its Web site on Wednesday, showing two men it claimed were setting up Internet systems for the vote being shot in the head.
The chairman of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission, Abdul Hussein Hendawi, however, said that he had no information about the executions.