- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2003

BAGHDAD — American troops searched yesterday for two U.S. soldiers who apparently were abducted north of Baghdad, while ambushes and hostile fire elsewhere in Iraq killed two American soldiers and two Iraqi civilians.

Officials played down the violence, which came a day after a U.S. Marine was killed while responding to an ambush in which three Americans were wounded, as a “spike” rather than a trend.

But with shattered glass, bloodstains and mangled vehicles littering the landscape, the upsurge in attacks is causing concern that the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq could be turning into a guerrilla war.

Reports of attacks on U.S. troops appeared almost hourly — too frequent for military press officers to follow. Most of the information came from witnesses at the attack scenes.

Between Wednesday and yesterday, assailants blew up a U.S. military vehicle with a roadside bomb, dropped grenades from an overpass, destroyed a civilian sport utility vehicle traveling with U.S. troops, demolished an oil pipeline and fired an apparent rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. Army truck.

In the latest reported attack, a member of a U.S. special operations force was killed and eight were wounded yesterday morning by hostile fire southwest of Baghdad, said the U.S. military, giving no further details.

Also yesterday, a bomb exploded on the Baghdad airport road, killing a U.S. soldier and wounding another, the military said. The road — used heavily by U.S. forces — has been the scene of several attacks using trip wires dangling from overpasses or grenades tossed from bridges.

In another ambush, assailants threw grenades at a U.S. and Iraqi civilian convoy in western Baghdad, killing two Iraqi employees of the national electricity authority, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police said. The convoy had U.S. Humvees at the front and the back and two Iraqi civilian vehicles in the middle. The victims were traveling in the same car.

Meanwhile, Pentagon officials said yesterday that two American soldiers apparently had been abducted.

The men and their Humvee were stationed at an observation post near the town of Balad, north of Baghdad, when they were noticed missing Wednesday night, said Pentagon officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A search by Apache attack helicopters began immediately, one official said, declining to say how the soldiers’ absence was noticed.

The Arab satellite station Al Jazeera, however, aired statements yesterday from two previously unknown groups urging assaults on U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

One, by a group calling itself the Mujahideen of the Victorious Sect, claimed responsibility for recent attacks and promised more. The other, by the Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq, called for “revenge” against the United States.

Two U.S. officials familiar with intelligence information said they had not heard of the groups issuing the statements and had no way to know whether they were credible.

Even before the latest violence began, U.S. intelligence officers had warned ground commanders to expect an increase in attacks against U.S. forces between June 25 and July 10. It was not clear on what intelligence the warning was based.

The names of the American and Iraqi victims of the latest attacks were not immediately released. The killings raised the American death toll to 196 since the start of the war on March 19. At least 20 U.S. soldiers have died as the result of hostile fire since the declared end of major combat in May.

Responding to the violence, U.S. forces pressed ahead with aggressive patrols throughout Iraq, conducting 1,185 day patrols and 975 night patrols, a U.S. military statement said.

U.S. soldiers in Khaldiyah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, raided three homes and arrested four suspects after an informant provided them the names of six men purportedly involved in ambushes against American forces.

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