U.S., Iraqi Forces Rescue Kidnapped Sunnis

By ROBERT H. REID
The Associated Press
Friday, May 12, 2006; 2:38 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. and Iraqi forces Thursday rescued seven Sunni Arab men seized by suspected Shiite militiamen near Baghdad, part of a campaign to suppress sectarian death squads responsible for hundreds of deaths this year.

The kidnapping was the latest in a wave that is plaguing the country. Many of the abductions are part of the sectarian warfare plaguing the Iraqi capital, home to large communities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

The U.S. command also announced the deaths of eight American soldiers, five of whom died in situations unrelated to enemy action.

Three soldiers were killed Thursday when roadside bombs hit two Army convoys southwest of Baghdad, the military said. Four Marines died Thursday when their tank rolled off a bridge into a canal and they drowned, the military said. The accident happened near Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad in Anbar Province. The U.S. command also announced that a U.S. soldier died Tuesday from non-combat related wounds.

The eight deaths raised to at least 2,434 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Iraqi police said Thursday's hostage trouble started when dozens of gunmen, some of them wearing military uniforms, raided two Sunni villages near Khan Bani Saad, 25 miles northeast of Baghdad, and abducted 10 young men.

Village leaders and clerics alerted police and U.S. soldiers, who rushed to the scene, clashed with the gunmen and rescued seven of the hostages, police said. Three others were missing and presumed taken away by gunmen, police said.

U.S. troops killed at least one kidnapper and wounded another, said Lt. Col. Thomas Fisher, commander of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor. Some of the hostages had been severely beaten, he told Associated Press TV News.

More than 30 people were taken into custody, Iraqi police said, and interrogators were trying to determine their identities. Some gunmen told police they belong to the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and had come from Baghdad, Iraqi authorities said.

Kidnappings are believed to have risen steadily since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, although police believe few are reported. A study by the Brookings Institution estimated that between 30 and 40 Iraqis were kidnapped per day in the Baghdad area alone during March, compared with two a day in the capital in January 2004.

Fisher said the incident may have been "tribal in nature." He did not elaborate, but tensions have been running high for months between Shiite and Sunni communities in religiously mixed Diyala province.

With the rise in sectarian tensions, much of the violence has shifted from Sunni insurgent strongholds such as Anbar province to Baghdad and other areas with a mixed population.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Associated Press