- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

BAGHDAD — Seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi army interpreter were attacked yesterday morning during a patrol in a Sunni insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad, leaving five dead and three missing, the military said.

The military said the patrol was struck in a pre-dawn explosion near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad — an al Qaeda area where two U.S. soldiers were found dead after disappearing at a checkpoint nearly a year ago.

A nearby unit heard the blast, and the search was initiated after communication could not be established with the patrol, the military said. Shortly after the blast, a drone observed two burning vehicles.

An emergency-response unit arrived at the scene and found five members of the team dead and three others missing.

Checkpoints were established throughout the area, while helicopters and jets buzzed overhead. AP Television News footage showed Iraqi soldiers picking through cattails and other weeds as they searched fields and canals for clues.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said the search would continue throughout the night.

“A lot of our vehicles have thermal capabilities, which sometimes work better at night than they do during the day,” he said.

The military refused to specify whether the Iraqi interpreter was among those killed or missing and would not give more details about where the bodies were found.

An Iraqi army officer who was familiar with the search said he saw five badly burned bodies inside a Humvee at the site, suggesting the remains may not have been recognizable. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

He also said joint U.S.-Iraqi forces had sealed off the area and were conducting house-to-house searches, rounding up dozens of suspects. The military declined to comment on detentions, but said troops were looking for suspects.

The Iraqi officer said U.S. troops singled out seven suspects out of as many as 50, including a wounded man who was hiding in a house and confessed to participating in the attack. He said most of the houses searched near the attack contained only women and children because the men had fled, fearing arrest.

“I was in my cucumber field when I heard a big explosion, followed by shootings. I ran toward my house because I was afraid that I would be arrested if spotted in the field,” Mizaal Abdullah, a 37-year-old farmer who was in the custody of the Iraqi army, said by telephone. “This is the third time that I have been arrested. Each time, the real attackers flee the area and innocent people like me get arrested.”

The attack occurred at 4:44 a.m. about 12 miles west of Mahmoudiya, a town of about 65,000 in a Sunni area dubbed the “triangle of death” for the frequent attacks against Shi’ite civilians and U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Last June 16, two American soldiers — Pfc. Kristian Menchaca of Houston and Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, Ore. — were missing after their Humvee was ambushed at a checkpoint near Youssifiyah, north of Mahmoudiya.

Their bodies were found days later, tied together with a bomb between one of the victim’s legs. A third soldier, David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was found dead at the scene of the attack.

Five U.S. soldiers also have been charged in the rape of a 14-year-old Mahmoudiya girl and the killing of her and her entire family, and three have pleaded guilty in the March 12, 2006, attack, which was initially blamed on insurgents.

Also yesterday, the military announced the death of an American soldier from a bomb attack Friday near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad.

At least 30 Iraqis were reported killed or found dead elsewhere in Iraq, including a Sunni physician shot to death on his way home from work in the northern city of Mosul.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide