- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 18, 2006

BAGHDAD — Insurgents foiled heightened security in Baghdad and killed more than two dozen people yesterday after an al Qaeda threat to avenge the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi, dealing a blow to the Iraqi government’s pledge to bring peace to the capital.

Eleven more Iraqis, including four in Baghdad, died in shooting attacks across Iraq.

U.S. troops, meanwhile, combed through the Triangle of Death, a predominantly Sunni Arab region south of the capital looking for two soldiers missing since an attack Friday on a traffic checkpoint that also killed one of their comrades. The New York Times reported that Iraqi residents in the area said they saw two soldiers taken prisoner by a group of masked guerrillas. It said the two surviving soldiers were led to two cars and driven away.

Fellow soldiers at a nearby checkpoint heard small-arms fire and explosions, and a quick-reaction force reached the scene in 15 minutes, the military said. The force found one soldier dead, but no sign of the two others.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said four raids had been carried out since the attack and that ground forces, helicopters and airplanes were taking part in the search. He said a dive team also was going to search for the men, whose checkpoint was located by a Euphrates River canal near Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad. The area is considered an insurgent hotbed.

“We are currently using every means at our disposal on the ground, in the air and in the water to find them,” Gen. Caldwell said.

He noted the military was still searching for Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin, missing since April 9, 2004. Sgt. Maupin was captured when insurgents ambushed his fuel convoy with the 724th Transportation Co. west of Baghdad. A week later, Al Jazeera television aired a videotape showing Sgt. Maupin sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.

That June, Al Jazeera aired another tape purporting to show a U.S. soldier being shot, but the dark, grainy tape showed only the back of the victim’s head and did not show the actual shooting. The Army ruled it was inconclusive whether the soldier was Sgt. Maupin.

A 20-year-old private first class at the time of his capture, Sgt. Maupin has been promoted twice since then.

The spree of bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad was an embarrassment for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who ordered more police and army checkpoints for the city last week to restore security for its 5 million residents.

His Sunni Arab deputy prime minister, Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, charged that the plan was not properly thought out and needed more work.

“I can say that I am not pleased with the way the Baghdad security plan began,” he told Al Jazeera. “The Baghdad plan has begun, but it will need a year or more to finish.”

Eight attacks killed at least 27 persons and wounded dozens in the Baghdad area. The violence included a suicide bomber who blew up his car as it was being towed near a police checkpoint in Mahmoudiyah, south of the city, killing four civilians and injuring 15. The bomber had claimed his car broke down and hired a tractor to tow it as he rode inside, police said.

A mortar barrage also hit a residential area in Mahmoudiyah, a predominantly Sunni town about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing one civilian and wounding three.

A mortar shell also hit one of Baghdad’s best-known markets, in the predominantly Shi’ite suburb of Kazimiyah, killing at least four persons and wounding 13, police said. About a half-hour later, two persons died and 24 were wounded when a bomb left in a plastic bag exploded at an outdoor market where secondhand goods are sold in central Baghdad.

Police said a suicide bomber targeting an Iraqi army patrol near Wathiq Square in the same neighborhood killed seven persons when he blew himself up.

A parked car bomb in southwest Baghdad killed six and wounded 36, police said.

Three mortar rounds hit a popular open-air market in the al-Bour area of northern Baghdad, killing two and wounding 14. One other person died from a roadside bombing.

The blasts stepped up a surge of violence that has shattered the fragile calm imposed by the security crackdown imposed a week after bombs dropped by a U.S. warplane killed Zarqawi in a hide-out June 7.

On Friday, a suspected shoe bomber targeting a Shi’ite imam who criticized Zarqawi blew himself up inside the Buratha mosque during the main weekly religious service, killing 13 persons and wounding 28. It was the second attack on the Buratha mosque in just over two months.

On April 7, four suicide bombers, including a woman, set off their explosives during Friday prayers, killing at least 85 worshippers.

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