Al-Qaida says it has missing U.S. troops
BAGHDAD – Thousands of U.S. soldiers searched Sunday for three Americans who were missing after their patrol came under attack in an explosion that killed four of their comrades and an Iraqi army translator. Two bombings – one in northern Iraq and another at a market in Baghdad – killed at least 67 Iraqis.
The Islamic State in Iraq, an al-Qaida front group, said it had captured several soldiers in the attack, but offered no proof to back up its claim, posted on an Islamic Web site.
The search for the missing Americans began after insurgents attacked a patrol of seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter before dawn Saturday near Mahmoudiya.
The U.S. military said Saturday that five people were dead and three were missing.
On Sunday, U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell confirmed that the Iraqi interpreter was among the dead – and that all the missing were Americans. He said about 4,000 U.S. troops were involved in the search.
Caldwell said the bodies of the three slain soldiers and the Iraqi interpreter had been identified, but the military was still working to identify the fifth.
“Everybody is fully engaged, the commanders are intimately focused on this, every asset we have from national assets to tactical assets … are being used … to locate these three missing soldiers,” Caldwell said.
Mahmoudiya is about 20 miles south of Baghdad in an al-Qaida-dominated area known as the “triangle of death.” Two U.S. soldiers were massacred there last year after they disappeared at a checkpoint.
President Bush has been getting regular updates on the missing soldiers, Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said in Washington.
Meanwhile, a suicide truck bomber crashed into the offices of a Kurdish political party, killing at least 50 people, including the police chief, and wounding scores, officials said. It was the second suicide attack in Kurdish areas of the north in four days.
The suicide truck bombing in Makhmur, 30 miles south of Irbil, badly damaged the office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Makhmur is just south of the autonomous Kurdish-controlled areas, but it has a substantial Kurdish population.
The blast also killed the police chief and damaged the mayor’s office, officials said.
Ziryan Othman, the health minister of the Kurdish regional government, said at least 50 people were killed and 115 were wounded, including the city’s mayor.
Cars were charred and crushed by the blast, with some flipped over. The tires of one appeared to have been incinerated. Most of the small KDP building appeared to have been destroyed, reduced to a pile of bricks. Other buildings had walls blown out.
A group of people hurriedly pulled a body from a demolished car.
Outside the hospital in Irbil, security guards closed the hospital to visitors and read a list containing the names of the wounded who had been admitted.
Hearing the names of his son and daughter, Qassim Amin, 61, a Kurd, thanked God that they had not been killed. Both are employees at the KDP party office, he said.
“Makhmur is an open, peaceful area, and al-Qaida is trying to destabilize it by causing fighting between Arabs and Kurds,” Amin said.
In Baghdad, a parked car exploded near the popular Sadriyah market, killing at least 17 people and wounding 46, police said. The area has been hit by several blasts usually blamed on suspected Sunni insurgents, including a car bombing on April 18 that killed 127 people.
AP Television News footage showed a crater in the ground filled with debris, splintered wood, metal and a tire. A white truck appeared to be crumpled by the blast.
With violence on the rise, Caldwell also announced that an additional 3,000 forces have been sent to Diyala province, scene of heavy fighting.
Last week, the top U.S. commander in the north, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, said the U.S. didn’t have enough troops to restore order in Diyala but more had been promised.
“There is a recognition clearly that up in Diyala there has been an uptick in the violence,” Caldwell said at a news conference in Baghdad.
On Sunday, Iraqi gunmen drove into the Diyala capital of Baqouba, pulled two handcuffed men out of the trunk and shot them to death – one in view of a bustling market and the other near a movie theater, police and witnesses said.
“This is the destiny of traitors,” the gunmen yelled as they shot their victims.
Three other civilians also were killed execution-style in a market in the city center, police said.