Missing soldiers sought in Iraq

Insurgent group says it caught 3 Americans in ambush that killed 5

May 14, 2007|By Tina Susman | Tina Susman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- A militant group tied to al-Qaida claimed yesterday to be holding three American soldiers missing since an ambush that left four U.S. troops and an Iraqi interpreter dead.

The statement from the Islamic State of Iraq came as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi security forces combed the "triangle of death," an area southwest of Baghdad that is a stronghold of Sunni Muslim insurgents.

Three U.S. soldiers disappeared after the Saturday ambush about 12 miles from Mahmoudiya. The military did not identify the U.S. troops, and did not reveal their combat unit.

There was no way to verify the militant group's claim. The Islamic State of Iraq, a coalition of Sunni groups loyal to al-Qaida, offered no photographic evidence to back up its claim, which appeared on the group's Web site.

The area of the attack is a stronghold of anti-American insurgents. Two U.S. soldiers were captured there and slain last year. Another group loyal to al-Qaida claimed to have captured and slain the men. The Army came under criticism after the incident for having allowed the unit to operate in a dangerous area without helicopter support.

About 4,000 troops backed by helicopters and spy planes searched the region, following up on tips from local residents, military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.

Across Iraq, bombs, mortars and gunfire killed more than 50 people yesterday, including 16 in a Baghdad market that has been a frequent target of bombings and other attacks.

Two other soldiers died in bomb blasts, one near Haditha, in al-Anbar province, and another in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

In northern Iraq, officials blamed al-Qaida for a bomb that tore through a street in downtown Makhmoor, about 150 miles from Baghdad. At least 32 people died and 115 were injured.

In the capital, residents of the Shiite Muslim district of Sadriya were reeling after a blast killed 16 people, the third major bombing since February.

Sadriya abuts Fadhil, a Sunni Muslim neighborhood where U.S. forces often clash with suspected insurgents. Survivors complained that a U.S.-Iraqi security plan launched in mid-February, aimed at taming sectarian violence, has failed to protect Sadriya.

"This whole security plan is a joke," said Jaffar Mousa, who was wounded by flying glass when the blast tore through his shop.

Also yesterday, a mortar struck a bakery in a busy section of northeastern Baghdad, killing three people. The bodies of 22 men, all apparent victims of sectarian death squads, were found across the capital, police said.

Tina Susman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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