Sunday, June 18, 2006


US soldiers are not allowed to travel alone or without a convoy. Two US soldiers missing in Iraq since Friday were abducted at gunpoint by masked militants, witnesses say. A huge hunt has been launched in the volatile area south of Baghdad where the pair were last seen. Witnesses say they were captured after their Humvee vehicle came under fire at a checkpoint. A third soldier died. The US military has not commented on the witnesses' claims but says it will hunt for the men until it establishes what has happened to them.

In other developments:
US and Iraqi troops set up extra checkpoints in the insurgent stronghold town of Ramadi in an effort to restrict militants' movements, but say a full-scale assault is not planned In Baghdad, which was rocked by a string of explosions on Saturday, 10 bakery workers are kidnapped at gunpoint from a mainly Shia areaThe bodies of 10 men are found elsewhere in Baghdad, bearing signs of torture, police say An explosion near a university in the northern city of Mosul kills one woman and injures 19 people The US search for the missing soldiers has focused on the area near Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, where they were manning a checkpoint at a road junction.

Local farmer Ahmed Khalaf Falah said three Humvees were at the checkpoint when it came under fire. Two vehicles drove off in pursuit of the attackers, but the third was ambushed, he told the Associated Press news agency. He said seven masked men killed the driver of the third vehicle, before seizing the two other US soldiers.
A similar account appeared in the New York Times newspaper. "I heard the men shouting 'God is great!' and I saw that they had taken the Americans with them. The gunmen took them and drove away," Hassan Abdul Hadi told the paper. Coalition and Iraqi forces will continue to search everywhere possible, uncovering every stone, until our soldiers are found - US military statement. The US military quickly launched an effort to find its troops, searching from the air, on land and in the canals around the River Euphrates. It carried out house-to-house searches on Saturday in areas near the site where the men were last since. "Coalition and Iraqi forces will continue to search everywhere possible, uncovering every stone, until our soldiers are found, and we will continue to use every resource available in our search," a statement said on Sunday.

In the US, White House spokesman Tony Snow said he had no information on the fate of the soldiers. "I don't want to try to create the impression that they're dead or alive," he said. "We're just simply trying to find them and we're hoping that they're alive." It is believed to be the first time in more than two years that US soldiers have been at the centre of kidnap fears. Sergeant Keith Maupin was seized in April 2004 when a fuel convoy was ambushed. A video purporting to show his death has not been authenticated and the US says it continues to search for him.

US soldiers in Iraq are regularly attacked and are forbidden from travelling alone, or in individual vehicles. The area south of Baghdad where the search for the two missing US soldiers is being conducted is known as the Triangle of Death, because of regular fatal clashes between US forces and Sunni insurgents.


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