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Search for missing soldiers intensifies

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 16, 2007


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BAGHDAD - U.S. aircraft dropped leaflets seeking information about three U.S. soldiers feared captured by al-Qaida, as troops steps up the search Tuesday despite a warning from the terror group that the hunt will endanger the captives' lives.

The U.S. command said the searchers were trying to isolate areas where they suspect the captives may have been taken after the pre-dawn ambush Saturday in which four American troops and an Iraqi soldier were killed.

"The captors don't have freedom of movement, " said Maj. Kenny Mintz of San Diego. "If they have the soldiers, they can't move them from where they are. We're doing a deliberate search of the areas."

On Monday, an al-Qaida front group - the Islamic State of Iraq - warned the Americans in a Web statement to call off the hunt "if you want their safety."

The warning could indicate that the presence of about 4, 000 U.S. and Iraqi troops in the thinly populated farming area 20 miles south of Baghdad is making it difficult for the captors to move the Americans to a secure location.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. command said American soldiers have questioned more than 450 people and detained at least 11 since the search began last weekend.

A later statement said aircraft had dropped leaflets asking for help in locating the soldiers. Trucks with loudspeakers were roaming the area urging people to come forward with any information. No details of the leaflets or their precise message were released.

On Tuesday, the military said the soldiers were assigned to Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y.

At the time of the attack, the soldiers were in two vehicles "at a stationary observation post trying to interdict terrorists who place roadside bombs, " said a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.

"There were other observation posts that were trying to do this in the area. They were not moving in a convoy. The entire unit was out operating in this same area, " Garver added.

Al-Qaida and other insurgent groups have been active for years in the string of towns and villages south of the capital. The area is known as the "triangle of death" because of frequent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces as well as Shiite civilians traveling to shrine cities in the south.

In June, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the deaths of two U.S. soldiers whose mutilated bodies were later found in the same area.

The soldiers attacked Saturday were assigned to a small patrol base set up as part of the new U.S. strategy to move troops from large, heavily defended garrisons to live and work among the people.

Critics of the strategy had warned that such small outposts are more vulnerable to attack. Last month, nine American soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle near a small patrol base northeast of Baghdad.

U.S. officials have not officially released names of the dead and missing soldiers.

POLICE BAR MEDIA FROM BOMBING SITE

Iraqi police fired warning shots in the air at the scene of a double bombing in Tayaran Square in central Baghdad on Tuesday, enforcing an order banning news photographers and TV camera operators from filming the aftermath of deadly bombings. Media groups feared the order was aimed at preventing scenes of horrific carnage from being broadcast around the world.

Key developments

- A mortar or rocket slammed into the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, wounding five U.S. Embassy contractors and causing property damage, an embassy spokesman said.

- Two bombs hidden in plastic bags exploded within minutes in two shops selling CDs and cigarettes in central Baghdad, killing at least seven and wounding 17.

- Suspected insurgents fired mortar shells at a fruit and vegetable wholesale market near Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, killing four civilians and wounding 11.

- About 50 suspected insurgents attacked a small Shiite village in Diyala province, killing five people and wounding 14, Iraqi army and police officers said.

[Last modified May 16, 2007, 02:30:54]


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