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5 Britons Kidnapped; 10 GIs Die in Iraq

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By STEVEN R. HURST
The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 30, 2007; 2:37 AM

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen in police uniforms and driving vehicles used by security forces kidnapped five Britons from an Iraqi Finance Ministry office Tuesday, and a senior Iraqi official said the radical Shiite Mahdi Army militia was suspected.

Compounding the fresh evidence of chaos in Iraq, the U.S. military announced that a total of 10 American soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and a helicopter crash on Memorial Day, making May _ at 113 fatalities _ the third deadliest month of the war.

Across the country Tuesday, police and morgue officials contacted by The Associated Press reported a total of at least 120 people killed or found dead. All of the officials refused to allow use of their names fearing they could be targeted by militants.

The Finance Ministry kidnappings, if the work of the Mahdi Army as asserted by Iraqi officials, could be retaliation for the killing by British forces last week of the militia's commander in Basra.

The raid also was reminiscent of an attack by the Shiite militiamen, dressed as Interior Ministry commandos, who stormed a Higher Education Ministry office Nov. 14 and snatched away as many as 200 people. Dozens of those kidnap victims were never been found.

The Mahdi Army, which is deeply embedded in the Iraqi security forces, also was believed looking for a way to avenge the recent killing by U.S. forces of a top operative. He was said to have been the author of an attack in the holy city of Karbala in January in which gunmen _ speaking English, wearing U.S. military uniforms and carrying American weapons _ abducted four U.S. soldiers and then shot them to death.

In the Finance Ministry attack, about 40 heavily armed men snatched the five Britons from an annex and sped away in a convoy of 19 four-wheel-drive vehicles toward Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold not far away, according to the British Foreign office in London and Iraqi officials in the Interior and Finance ministries.

Joe Gavaghan, a spokesman for Montreal-based security firm GardaWorld, confirmed that four of its security workers and one client were kidnapped. All four GardaWorld workers are British citizens, he said, declining to provide more details.

A spokesman for BearingPoint, a McLean, Va.,-based management consulting firm, said one of the company's employees, apparently the client referred to by Gavaghan, was among those abducted.

"We have been informed that a BearingPoint employee working in Iraq was taken from a work site early this morning," Steve Lunceford, the BearingPoint spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to AP.

BearingPoint has been working in Iraq since 2003 on a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded contract to support economic recovery and reform, Lunceford said.

A senior official in the Iraqi Interior Ministry confirmed the five were British and that Mahdi Army militiamen were believed responsible. The official would provide the information only on condition that his name not be used.


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