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Monday, May 14, 2007

Search for 3 G.I.’s Abducted in Iraq Continues - New York Times

Search for 3 G.I.’s Abducted in Iraq Continues - New York Times: "May 14, 2007
Search for 3 G.I.’s Abducted in Iraq Continues
By DAMIEN CAVE
BAGHDAD, May 14 — The search continued today for three American soldiers who were abducted after an attack south of Baghdad, as the Al Qaeda group that claimed responsibility for the attack warned that the soldiers would never be found.

“We say to you that what you are doing, searching for your soldiers, will be in vain and lead to nothing but fatigue and unrest,” said a statement published online by The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. “Your soldiers are in our hands. If you desire safety, do not look for them.”

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman here for the American military, said in a statement today that “Al Qaeda or an affiliate group” did appear to have engineered the abduction, based on credible intelligence.

His latest statement included few other details of the attack, which occurred early Saturday near Mahmudiya, a predominantly Sunni Arab farming town that has been a battleground between Sunni Arab insurgents, Shiite militias and Iraqi and American security forces.

But General Caldwell did explain for the first time why it took 56 minutes for American reinforcements to arrive at the scene of the ambush. His statement said that the two units sent to the scene discovered roadside bombs along the way.

The statement also said that, of the four American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier who died in the ambush, one American was still unidentified.

“We’re working hard at making every effort to identify the fourth American,” General Caldwell said, “so that we can properly notify the families as to the status of their loved ones.”

The Islamic State of Iraq statement today, its second about the attack, seemed to be addressed specifically to General Caldwell. Boasting about the assault and calling the war in Iraq “a competition,” the group’s statement suggested that the abduction was meant to even the score after General Caldwell’s announcement earlier this month that American troops had killed Muharib Abdul Latif al-Jubouri, a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

“Today,” the statement said, after referring to Mr. al-Jubouri’s death, “catastrophe hits you by your false propaganda that your American soldiers are invincible and that a soldier cannot be captured.”

The statement went on to cite the American mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the rape last year of a teenaged girl by American troops near the site where the abduction occurred.

The area, sometimes called the Triangle of Death, has been perpetually difficult for the American military to control. Last June, insurgents captured two American soldiers during a surprise attack nearby, close to Yusufiya. After four days of searching by 8,000 American and Iraqi troops, the mutilated bodies of the two missing soldiers were found a few miles away. Evidence later suggested that they had been tortured and killed within 24 hours of being abducted.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella insurgent group that was a precursor to the Islamic State of Iraq and included Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for those killings. Its statements had a similar tone to the statements issued in the last few days, and they, too, referred to the rape in Mahmudiya last year. Several marines have pleaded guilty in the American military’s investigation of the rape case.

The statement from the Islamic State of Iraq today boasted that the group had captured “crusader soldiers” for the second time.

Sheikh Ali Al-Hatim, head of Dulaimi tribe in Mahmudiya, said that the ambush also bore the hallmarks of another coordinated assault on American troops — an attack in January by gunmen dressed in fake American military uniforms. They stormed the provincial governor’s office in Karbala, killing a soldier and kidnapping four who were later found dead in or near abandoned sport-utility vehicles.

“We believe this is a very complicated issue,” Mr. Al-Hatim said. “It is similar to the incident that took place in Karbala. A number of parties are involved in this — Al Qaeda and other militias.”

He said that the present search, involving 4,000 American troops, was expanding through villages that are rife with Al Qaeda infiltration.

“The situation in the area where the incident took place is very dangerous,” he said. “Al Qaeda has been knocking on people’s doors and telling them that their sons between the ages of 20 and 30 must join their organization.”

He said that the Americans conducting the search had detained at least 50 people.

A senior Iraqi army official in the area, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak about the operation, said that fighting had broken out in a few places between searching American troops and Al Qaeda fighters. He said that at least two gunmen had been killed and several houses destroyed, and he estimated that about 100 people had been arrested, including an older man who may have later died while in custody.

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