Iraqis say they found body of U.S. soldier held by al-Qaida, but no American confirmation
Iraqi police dragged a body from the Euphrates River on Wednesday and said it was one of three American soldiers abducted in an ambush claimed...
The Associated Press
BAGHDAD — Iraqi police dragged a body from the Euphrates River on Wednesday and said it was one of three American soldiers abducted in an ambush claimed by al-Qaida. The U.S. military has yet to identify the victim and pressed ahead with its search through sweltering flatlands south of Baghdad.
According to a U.S. military official, a second body was found in the area near where the first body was discovered. The official, who requested anonymity because the information has not yet been released, said there was no indication yet whether the body was another of the three missing soldiers.
American forces also disclosed nine more deaths, raising to 20 the number of U.S. troops killed in four days.
The spike in American deaths and the discovery of the bodies come at a difficult moment for Washington, where the Bush administration and Congress are struggling to agree on funding for the unpopular war. The search for the captured soldiers has also taken thousands of troops out of the pool of forces for the Baghdad security crackdown.
Nationwide at least 104 people were killed in sectarian violence or found dead Wednesday, including 32 who perished in suicide bombings. One bombing took place 60 miles west of the capital, the other in a city to the east near the Iranian border.
In the search for three U.S. soldiers ambushed and captured May 12, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces have trudged in temperatures above 110 degrees through desert and lush farmland, sometimes wading in sewage-polluted irrigation ditches. Four other troopers and an Iraqi were killed in the ambush, subsequently claimed by al-Qaida.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters that U.S. authorities took custody of the body found Wednesday.
"Iraqi police did find the body of a man whom they believe may be one of our missing soldiers," Caldwell said. "We have received the body and we will work diligently to determine if he is in fact one of our missing soldiers."
Iraqi police using civilian boats searched for other bodies on the river in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, and U.S. troops intensified their presence on a nearby bridge as helicopters flew overhead, witnesses said.
Hassan al-Jibouri, 32, said he saw the body with head wounds and whip marks on its back floating on the river Wednesday morning. He and others then alerted police.
A senior Iraqi army officer in the Babil area told The Associated Press that the body was that of an American soldier. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. One report said the body bore a tattoo on the left hand.
The military has warned that U.S. casualties were likely to increase as troops made more frequent patrols during the U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad, now in its fourth month.
The captured soldiers are Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.; Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.
In the soldiers' hometowns, friends and relatives anxiously awaited word.
"Everyone here is just on pins and needles waiting and hoping," said Scott McDowell, principal of South High School in Torrance, which Anzack attended before enlisting. "Half the computers here are logged on to CNN looking for any news. ... It's been tough sitting and waiting."
McDowell also said some students and their families are wearing yellow ribbons to show support for Anzack.
At Jimenez's father's home in Lawrence, a former mill city north of Boston, a yellow ribbon also was tied on the front door. Ramon Jimenez, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator in a cell phone conversation that he has been bouyed by the support of friends and family.
"The hope is very high that God is going to give Alex back to him," said Wendy Luzon, a family friend who translated the conversation and has been serving as a spokeswoman for the family.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, announced he was ready to fill six Cabinet seats vacated by politicians loyal to radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a mass resignation last month.
Al-Sadr, who went into hiding in Iran at the start of the Baghdad security crackdown, ordered his ministers to quit the government over al-Maliki's refusal to call for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
The deaths of the seven soldiers and two Marines in a series of attacks Monday and Tuesday brought the American death toll for the month to at least 80. Last month, 104 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq.
One of Wednesday's suicide bombings hit a cafe in the town of Mandali, on the Iranian border 60 miles east of Baghdad. The attacker walked into the packed cafe and blew himself up, killing 22 people and wounding 13, police said.
The cafe in the mixed Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish city was popular with police officers — but none was there at the time, police said. A man in his 30s wearing a heavy jacket despite the heat was seen walking into the cafe seconds before the blast, according to police.
In the second suicide assault, a bomber blew himself up in the house of two brothers who were supporting a Sunni alliance opposed to al-Qaida in Anbar province, killing 10 people, including the men, their wives and children, police Lt. Col. Jabar Rasheed Nayef said.
The attacker, a 17-year-old neighbor, broke into the house of the two men, Sheik Mohammed Ali and police Lt. Col. Abed Ali, and detonated his bomb belt late Tuesday in Albo Obaid, about 60 miles west of Baghdad.
The targeted men were part of the Anbar Salvation Council, a group of Sunni tribal leaders backing the government's fight against al-Qaida.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said U.S. and Iraqi officials were planning to increase again the number of Iraqi security forces to help quell violence in the country.
The review was undertaken as President Bush's new military-political team in Iraq — commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker — assessed strategy for the four-year-old war.
"Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have been working on the specific tactics" needed for the strategy President Bush announced in January — a troop buildup to calm Baghdad so Iraqis can make political and economic progress, Johndroe said.
About 337,000 Iraqi police and soldiers had been trained and equipped as of May 9, according to Defense Department statistics. Officials hope to have the currently planned 365,000 in place by the end of the year, Brig. Gen. Michael Jones, deputy director for political-military affairs in the Middle East for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers Tuesday.
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