From NYT: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- May 13, 2007 U.S. Sweeps Iraq Seeking 3 Soldiers Missing in Attack By KIRK SEMPLE BAGHDAD, May 13 â About 4,000 American ground troops supported by surveillance aircraft, attack helicopters and spy satellites swept towns and farmland south of Baghdad on Sunday, searching for three American soldiers who disappeared on Saturday after their patrol was ambushed, military officials said. The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, asserted that it had captured the three missing Americans and claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed four other American soldiers and an Iraqi Army soldier. The group offered no proof for its claim. The intensive search coincided with two deadly car bombings in Baghdad and northern Iraq that killed at least 55 people, wounded 155 and further underscored the challenges facing the American and Iraqi security forces, which have been unable to thwart such attacks by the Sunni Arab-led insurgency despite the infusion of new American troops. The ambush of the Americans occurred near Mahmudiya, a predominantly Sunni Arab farming town south of the capital that has been a battleground between Sunni Arab-insurgents, Shiite militias and Iraqi and American security forces. Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, said Sunday that three of the American soldiers killed in the attack had been identified, but that âweâre still going through the process of identifyingâ the fourth, suggesting that the soldier had been seriously disfigured. American officials said the soldiers were attacked while traveling in two vehicles, which burst into flames. The military command has not yet released the names of the victims they have already identified. American military officials offered few details on Sunday about the search but said they were sparing no resources. âEverybody is fully engaged, the commanders are intimately focused on this,â Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the top American military spokesman, said at a news conference with reporters from the Iraqi media, according to The Associated Press. He said the searchers were using âevery asset we have, from national assets to tactical assets.â Troops surrounded the town of Yusufiya, near Mahmudiya along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, conducted house-by-house searches and checked all cars entering and leaving town, The Associated Press reported. The Islamic State of Iraq posted its claims of responsibility on jihadist Web sites on Sunday. âClashes between your brothers in the Islamic State of Iraq and a Crusadersâ patrol in Mahmudiya, southern Baghdad province, has led to the killing and arresting of several of them,â the message said. If history is any measure, the chances of the Americans surviving capture would be slim. The organization has claimed responsibility for numerous killings of prisoners. Last June, insurgents captured two American solidiers during a surprise attack near Yusufiya. After a four-day search by 8,000 American and Iraqi troops, the soldiersâ bodies were found about three miles from the site of their kidnapping. They had been tortured, and insurgents had booby-trapped the road leading to the bodies. Mujahedeen Shura, an umbrella insurgent group that was a precursor to the Islamic State of Iraq and included Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for those killings. Controlling the predominantly Sunni towns on the periphery of the capital, such as Mahmudiya and Yusufiya, has become an important element of the American commandâs latest strategy for trying to pacify the capital. American commanders say the insurgency has been using these outlying rural towns â comprising what the Americans call âthe Baghdad beltsâ â to store munitions, build car bombs, hide fighters and stage attacks on the capital. But in public comments in the past two weeks, the American military commanders who control access routes into the capital from the north and south have described in unusually frank terms the difficult challenges they face. On Friday, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, who commands American troops north of Baghdad, said he did not have enough troops to fight the insurgency in Diyala Province, which has become one of the most violent areas and among the deadliest for American forces. On May 5, Gen. Rick Lynch, who oversees about 26,000 American forces in an area bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers south of Baghdad and including Mahmudiya and Yusufiya, described the struggle in Iraq as âthree-dimensional chess in the dark â and thatâs an understatement.â âThereâs no simple solution here,â he told reporters. He said the American militaryâs work is ânot an impossible task but itâs going to take a long time.â In the first 45 days after his divisionâs deployment in March, his troops suffered more than 50 casualties, including 13 dead, he said, adding that he expected the number to rise as the number of American troops increases over the summer. Both Mahmudiya and Yusufiya are situated east of the Euphrates River, which is bracketed by thick date palm orchards often used by insurgents as hideouts â the dense foliage shields them from American aerial reconnaissance. General Lynch said that while Sunni and Shiite militants operate in his area, he regarded Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as his most serious problem. âItâs like a hydra,â he said. âIt keeps regenerating its heads.â In violence elsewhere, the American military said Sunday that an American soldier was killed on Saturday and one was wounded when their armored truck was struck by a bomb planted in the roadway near Haditha, in Anbar Province. In the most deadly attack on Sunday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside an office of a leading Kurdish political party in the northern town of Makhmur, killing at least 50 people and wounding 115, said Brig. Mohammed al-Wagaa, an Iraqi Army commander in Mosul. The attack occurred at the gate of a government compound that includes the offices of Makhmurâs mayor and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the organization led by Massoud Barzani, president of the region of northern Iraq that the party calls Iraqi Kurdistan. Makhmur is located just south of the area controlled by Mr. Barzani but has a sizable Kurdish population. . The blast destroyed several buildings and houses, âmany carsâ and a gas station, according to Abdulrahman Belaf, the mayor of Makhmur, who was in his office at the time and was wounded in the attack. The townâs police chief died in the blast, officials said. It was the second vehicle bombing in five days against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq. Makhmur falls within a region that the authorities in Iraqâs Kurdistan region want to annex. The Iraqi Constitution calls for a referendum before the end of year on whether a swath of territory in three northern Iraqi provinces, including the oil capital of Kirkuk, should become part of the Kurdish-controlled region. American and Iraqi officials say they expect a sharp rise in violence as the referendum nears, mainly led by Sunni Arab insurgents opposed to a geographic expansion by the Kurds. Kurdish officials said Sunday that they did not yet know who was responsible for the attack in Makhmur or whether it was related to an attack last week in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region, in which a truck loaded with explosives detonated in front of offices of the Kurdish regional government, killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 70. In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded at the Sadriya market in a predominantly Shiite quarter of eastern Baghdad, killing at least five people and wounding 40, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The neighborhood has been a repeated target of attacks in recent months. On April 18, at least 140 people were killed and 150 people were wounded when a bomb exploded in an informal bus station near the market. On Feb. 3, a truck bombing killed at least 137 people, wounded 305 and obliterated part of the market. In another attack on Sunday, gunmen broke into a flour factory in the Uaireej region south of Baghdad and killed five people and wounded four, the Interior Ministry official said. The Iraqi authorities reported finding at least 11 bodies dumped around the capital, and 10 bodies in the streets and empty lots of Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province. A former senior official in the Baath Party in Mosul was killed by gunmen, officials reported.