Archive for Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May third-deadliest month as 10 troops die on Memorial Day

May 30, 2007

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A man walks outside an Iraqi Finance Ministry office in Baghdad, after three British citizens were kidnapped. The Britons were kidnapped Tuesday by a group of gunmen wearing police commando uniforms who arrived at the ministry office in a huge convoy of white sport utility vehicles, which are often used by police, according to a government official and a police officer.

A man walks outside an Iraqi Finance Ministry office in Baghdad, after three British citizens were kidnapped. The Britons were kidnapped Tuesday by a group of gunmen wearing police commando uniforms who arrived at the ministry office in a huge convoy of white sport utility vehicles, which are often used by police, according to a government official and a police officer.

U.S. deaths

As of Tuesday, at least 3,466 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

— May is not yet over, and already it has recorded the third-highest monthly death toll for American forces in Iraq since the war began four years ago.

The military announced that 10 soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and a helicopter crash on Memorial Day. As of late Tuesday, there were at least 113 U.S. deaths in Iraq so far in May, with two days left in the month.

The U.S. military has said soldiers could face higher chances of ambush and capture under a new strategy to shift troops into smaller outposts - part of plans to seek more outreach with Iraqi civilians and possible tips on militant activities.

Since the war began in March 2003, only two other months have recorded higher death tolls: November 2004 with 137 deaths, and April 2004 with 135 fatalities.

Still, Iraqis are dying in far greater numbers than U.S. troops.

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.

Compounding the fresh evidence of chaos in Iraq, 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.

The 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 have 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.

Baghdad police, meanwhile, said two car bombers hit neighborhoods on opposite sides of the Tigris River on Tuesday, killing at least 40 people and wounding 123 others. A Shiite mosque was destroyed in the second of the two attacks, in the Amil neighborhood in west Baghdad.

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