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U.S. searches militia stronghold for Britons

Published May 31, 2007


BAGHDAD - American forces on Wednesday pressed their search for five Britons kidnapped in a mock police raid that Iraqi officials said was carried out by the Mahdi Army Shiite militia. At nightfall Wednesday, dozens of U.S. Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles took up positions around Sadr City, the militia's stronghold.

Meanwhile, the White House said Wednesday that President Bush envisions a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea, where U.S. forces have helped keep an uneasy peace for more than 50 years.

The comparison was offered as the Pentagon announced the completion of the troop buildup ordered by Bush in January. Overall, the Pentagon said there are 150, 000 U.S. troops in Iraq, but that number may still climb as more support troops move in.

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said Bush has cited the long-term Korea analogy in looking at the U.S. role in Iraq, where American forces are in the fifth year of an unpopular war. Bush's goal is for Iraqi forces to take over the chief security responsibilities, relieving U.S. forces of frontline combat duty, Snow said.

"I think the point he's trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time, " Snow said. "But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence."

Asked if U.S. forces would be permanently stationed in Iraq, Snow said, "No, not necessarily." He said that the prospect of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq was "not necessarily the case, either."

The five Britons kidnapped Tuesday included four bodyguards working for the Montreal security firm GardaWorld and one employee of BearingPoint, a McLean, Va., consulting firm.

A secret incident report about the abductions - written by Najwa Fatih-Allah, director general of the Finance Ministry's data processing center, where the Britons were seized - quotes Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, as saying the Mahdi Army "will be profoundly sorry" if it carried out the assault.

Portions of the report to Finance Minister Bayan Jabr were read to the Associated Press by a government official anonymously because the document was not for public distribution.

It said that Iraq's security ministers, meaning the Defense and Interior ministers, blamed the Mahdi Army and quoted them as relaying the remark allegedly made by Petraeus.

Fast Facts:

Other Iraq developments

Violence: Police, Iraqi military, hospital and morgue officials reported 72 people killed or found dead nationwide Wednesday.

Soldier deaths: The U.S. military late Wednesday reported the deaths of three more soldiers: Two were killed in a roadside bombing Wednesday, and one died Tuesday of a noncombat cause.

Monday's copter crash: Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military believed a helicopter that crashed Monday north of Baghdad was brought down by small-arms fire.

Iraqi refugees: The United States will soon begin admitting a bigger trickle of the more than 2-million refugees from Iraq. It plans to allow nearly 7, 000 Iraqis to resettle in the United States by the end of September.

Turkey reinforces border: Turkey has stationed large contingents of soldiers, tanks and armored personnel carriers along its border with Iraq as it urges the United States to crack down on Kurdish rebel bases there and debates staging a cross-border offensive.


[Last modified May 31, 2007, 01:09:51]

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