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Insurgents: We have U.S. soldiers

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 14, 2007


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BAGHDAD - An al-Qaida front group announced Sunday it had captured American soldiers in a deadly attack the day before, as thousands of U.S. troops searched insurgent areas south of Baghdad for their three missing comrades.

The statement came on one of the deadliest days in the country in recent weeks, with at least 124 people killed or found dead. A suicide truck bomb tore through the offices of a Kurdish political party in northern Iraq, killing 50 people, and a car bombing in a Baghdad market killed another 17.

Troops surrounded the town of Youssifiyah and told residents over loudspeakers to stay inside, residents said. They then methodically searched the houses, focusing on possible secret chambers under the floors where the soldiers might be hidden, residents said. The soldiers marked each searched house with a white piece of cloth.

Soldiers also searched cars entering and leaving the town, writing "searched" on the side of each vehicle they had inspected. Several people were arrested, witnesses said.

The Islamic State in Iraq offered no proof for its claim that it was behind the attack Saturday in Mahmoudiya that also killed four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator. But the Sunni area known as the "triangle of death" is a longtime al-Qaida stronghold.

If the claim proves true, it would mark one of the most brazen attacks by the umbrella Sunni insurgent group against U.S. forces here.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the U.S. military, said 4, 000 U.S. troops backed by aircraft and intelligence units were scouring the farming area as the military made "every effort available to find our missing soldiers."

President Bush was also getting regular updates on the missing soldiers, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council in Washington.

The early morning attack on two U.S. military vehicles outside of Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, left the bodies of the four U.S. soldiers and their translator badly burned. Caldwell said the bodies of the interpreter and three of the slain soldiers had been identified, but the military was still working to identify the fourth.

TROOP LOSSES RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT VEHICLE

A string of heavy losses from powerful roadside bombs has raised new questions about the vulnerability of the Stryker, the Army's troop-carrying vehicle hailed by supporters as the key to a leaner, more mobile force. Since the Strykers went into action in violent Diyala province north of Baghdad two months ago, losses of the vehicles have been rising steadily, U.S. officials said. A single infantry company in Diyala lost five Strykers this month in less than a week, according to soldiers familiar with the losses who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release the information. The overall number of Strykers lost recently is classified. In one of the biggest hits, six American soldiers and a journalist were killed when a huge bomb exploded beneath their Stryker on May 6.

Other developments

Iran, U.S. to hold talks: The U.S. and Iran said Sunday they will hold talks in Baghdad about improving Iraq's security - a political turnabout for the two countries with the most influence over Iraq's future. Vice President Dick Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, confirmed the upcoming talks.

Sunnis to get bigger security role: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has agreed to give Sunnis a bigger role in security operations in their areas, lawmakers said Sunday, in a deal that staves off a threatened Sunni walkout that could have toppled the Shiite leader's embattled government.

GOP leader voices frustration: Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, said Sunday that senators in both parties are frustrated with the Iraqi government. "I think benchmarks will be a part of the final package that we get to the president for signature on the troop funding bill, " McConnell said on CNN's Late Edition.

[Last modified May 14, 2007, 01:23:19]


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