2 missing U.S. soldiers believed alive Friday

Third may be dead, military cautions

group is focus of huge dragnet in Iraq

May 20, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two of the three U.S. soldiers missing since a May 12 ambush south of Baghdad are believed to have been alive as recently as Friday morning, but the third might be dead, the military said yesterday.

The fate of the men has been the focus of a huge dragnet by U.S. troops, who have detained more than 700 people for questioning in and around Yusifiya, a market town 10 miles south of the capital.

Information obtained from the detainees and other sources has provided a clearer picture of the ambush, but the military does not know the men's fates definitively, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said in an interview with Army Times published yesterday and confirmed by a spokesman, Col. Steven A. Boylan.

Gen. David H. Petraeus told the newspaper that the military had identified the person chiefly responsible for the abduction of the three men and the killing of four other soldiers and a translator.

"We know who that guy is," the commander said. "He's sort of an affiliate of al-Qaida. He's the big player down in that area. We've tangled with him before."

The missing are Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.; Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. It is not known who among them might be dead, Boylan said.

Boylan said no one has contacted authorities to provide proof that the missing soldiers are alive or to try to negotiate terms for their release.

As the hunt for the men continued yesterday, the military announced the deaths of five other soldiers, the corpses of 55 Iraqis were found across the country, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Iraq.

In the latest deadly attack against U.S. forces, one soldier was killed and three were wounded yesterday when their patrol was struck by a roadside bomb south of Baghdad. The military announced the deaths of four other soldiers killed Friday. One was struck by small-arms fire south of Baghdad, another was killed in combat in Anbar province, and two others were killed by a roadside bomb and small-arms fire in northwest Baghdad.

A mortar shell landed in the capital's Green Zone as Blair, who leaves office next month crippled by the unpopularity of the war, paid a visit yesterday. The attack slightly injured an Iraqi.

In a news conference, Blair said good news in the country was being obscured by disproportionate attention paid to the car bombs, mortar fire and attacks.

Blair repeated that he saw "real signs of change and progress" in Iraq but declined to be specific, deferring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when he was challenged by reporters. The Iraqi leader cited Anbar province, where Sunni sheiks have lent their support to the U.S.-Iraqi security plan for the region, and Kurdistan in the north, where he said the number of car bombs has dropped "from 10 to 14 before, and to two to three a day now."

Al-Maliki acknowledged that the violence in the country remains extreme, and he blamed extremists "being financed from abroad and those who want this government to fail."

Behind closed doors, al-Maliki told Blair that he was concerned specifically about support being offered to militants from sources in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, according to a source privy to the talks.

Al-Maliki also brought up concerns that other political powers might be working toward a coup in Iraq, but Blair reassured him that neither Britain nor the U.S. would support such a move, the source said.

Garrett Therolf writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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