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5 Die in Ambush of U.S. Patrol in Iraq

Securing the violent areas around Baghdad has become a primary focus of the security plan launched in mid-February and the additional troops ordered into Iraq by President Bush. One of the five newly deployed U.S. military brigades was assigned to the other side of the Tigris River from Mahmudiyah; it is working to stop the traffic of explosives into Baghdad and to disrupt areas where insurgents are believed to hide and plan their assaults.

Saturday's attack on the patrol began at 4:44 a.m.

"A nearby unit heard explosions and attempted to establish communications, but without success," Caldwell said.

At 4:59 a.m., an unmanned surveillance aircraft relayed images of two burning vehicles. By 5:40 a.m., a U.S. quick-reaction force had arrived at the scene, secured the site and launched the hunt for the missing soldiers, Caldwell said.

The mayor of Mahmudiyah, Muaiad Fadhil Hussein, said the attack happened near the village of Beshesha, west of the city. He described it as "one of the most dangerous areas of the city, in which Arab and Iraqi terrorists exist, and not even innocent civilians can enter it."

A curfew has been imposed on Mahmudiyah and surrounding areas, he said, adding that "we, as a mayoralty, are working to provide intelligence information and moral support" to the U.S. and Iraqi forces conducting the search.

Abdullah al-Ghareri, a well-known preacher in Mahmudiyah, said the forces, backed by helicopters and "tens of tanks," were conducting search operations into the night and had made some arrests. Residents said many insurgents had fled the city as U.S. forces entered it.

A senior Iraqi army official said he believed that the attack had been carried out by Sunni insurgents. "This area is really full of al-Qaeda members," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mohamad al-Janabi, a reputed al-Qaeda member in the nearby city of Salman Pak, said in a telephone interview that he was unable to contact his comrades in Mahmudiyah to determine whether they were responsible for the attack.

But he added: "I can assure you that we will start pressuring Bush in a new way at the same time he is facing pressures from the Democrats and the American people. And there will be no problem to sacrifice 10 soldiers in order to abduct a single American soldier and get him on television screens begging for us to release him."

Garver, the military spokesman, said U.S. helicopters, planes, tanks and soldiers were outfitted with infrared and night-vision equipment, and thermal sights that can detect people through body heat, especially when the ground cools.

"We have great capabilities to continue the hunt through the night," Garver said. "We'll keep continuing to search."

In a separate incident, a soldier from the 89th Military Police Brigade injured Friday by a roadside bomb south of Iskandariyah, a town 18 miles south of Baghdad, died of his wounds, the military said in a statement Saturday.

Special correspondent Waleed Saffar and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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