In the video broadcast on Al-Jazeera television, the bearded man, wearing a black and cream shirt, identifies himself as US citizen Roy Hallums.

Sitting cross-legged on the ground, a gun to his head, the hostage was shaking with nerves and crushing his hands together.

He said he’d been arrested by a “resistance group” because “I have worked with American forces.”

Mr Hallums begs for help from “Arab rulers especially President Moammar Gadhafi because he’s known for helping those who are suffering.”

But he rejects the possibility of assistance from US President George W Bush, saying “I know of his selfishness and unconcern for those who’ve been pushed into this hellhole”.

Last month, the US embassy said 56-year-old American Roy Hallums had been kidnapped in November in Baghdad.

Confronted with escalating violence in the run up to Sunday’s election, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said it would be “reckless and dangerous” to fix a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Allawi said American troops couldn’t be withdrawn until Iraq builds up its security forces.

“Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces,” he said.

“I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people. I will not set final dates.”

And the US army says it’s expecting to maintain around 120,000 troops in Iraq for at least two more years.

“We’re making the assumption that the level of effort is going to continue,” Lieutenant General James Lovelace, the army’s top operations officer, told the Washington Post.

Tuesday was another day of violence in Iraq, with insurgents again staging deadly attacks across the country, killing at least 13 people.

Among the dead were the senior Baghdad judge and his brother-in-law, shot dead in their car by the Al-Qaeda linked Army of Ansar al-Sunna.

The slain judge was identified as Qais Hashim Shameri, secretary general of the judge’s council in the Justice Ministry.

Mr Shameri served as the chief administrator on the council of judges, the legal body that supervises all of Iraq’s courts.

His assailants danced in the street afterwards, shouting “this is what will happen to the traitor Shiites”.

Loyalists of Al-Qaeda frontman, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed to have attacked more than a dozen polling centres overnight.

Iraqi police said the attacks caused severe damage to stations across Saddam Hussein’s home province in northern Iraq, but no casualties were reported.

On Tuesday Iraq’s electoral commission finally published the names of almost 7,700 candidates in the elections.

For fear of attack by insurgents, most have not been campaigning.

In a further sign of an upsurge in violence, another militant group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, ordered “its forces everywhere to escalate attacks to the maximum”.

Although the authenticity of the internet statement couldn’t be confirmed, authorities fear insurgents may be planning a “more spectacular” attack in the last days before the poll.

Air Force Brigadier General Erv Lessel, deputy director of operations in Iraq, told CNN insurgent attacks had dropped 50 percent in recent days.

“We think it’s a calm before the storm, that they’re unable to sustain the level of attacks that they’ve had, but they’re saving up for something more spectacular in the days preceding elections and on election day,” he said.

But the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has again escalated, with White House expected to seek another US$80b in supplementary funding.

That would make the total provided to the Defence Department for those wars, and other efforts in the war on terrorism, more than $280b.

In comparison, the total cost of the Vietnam War was $623b, translated into 2005 dollars.

In 2002, Bush administration officials mocked then-economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey for suggesting a war in Iraq could cost $100b to $200b.

Congress has also provided $25 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan – $21 billion of it for Iraq.

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