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US hunts for 2 missing soldiers in Iraq

Bombing surge kills at least 27

BAGHDAD -- The US military employed ground forces and helicopters yesterday to hunt for two soldiers missing after an attack that killed one of their comrades at a checkpoint in the so-called Triangle of Death south of Baghdad.

The New York Times reported last night that Iraqi residents in the area said they saw two soldiers taken prisoner by a group of masked guerrillas near Youssifiyah. It said the two surviving soldiers were led to two cars and driven away.

Fellow soldiers at a nearby checkpoint heard small-arms fire and explosions, and a quick-reaction force reached the scene in 15 minutes, the military said. The force found one soldier dead but no sign of the two others.

US Major General William Caldwell said four raids had been carried out since Friday's attack. He said a dive team also was going to search for the men because their checkpoint was near a Euphrates River canal.

``We are currently using every means at our disposal on the ground, in the air, and in the water to find them," said Caldwell, the spokesman for US forces in Baghdad.

In describing efforts to locate the two missing soldiers, Caldwell noted the military was still searching for Sergeant Keith Matthew Maupin, who went missing on April 9, 2004.

Maupin was captured when insurgents ambushed his fuel convoy with the 724th Transportation Co. west of Baghdad. A week later, Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape showing Maupin sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.

Meanwhile, violence continued unabated yesterday.

Insurgents foiled heightened security in Baghdad and killed more than two dozen people in bombing and mortar attacks yester day after an Al Qaeda threat to avenge the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, dealing a blow to the Iraqi government's pledge to bring peace to the capital.

Eleven more Iraqis, including four in Baghdad, died in shooting attacks across Iraq.

The spree of bombings and mortar attacks in Baghdad was an embarrassment for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who ordered more police and army checkpoints for the city last week to restore security for its 5 million residents.

His Sunni Arab deputy prime minister, Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie, charged that the plan needed more work.

``I can say that I am not pleased with the way the Baghdad security plan began," he told Al-Jazeera television. ``The Baghdad plan has begun, but it will need a year or more to finish."

Zubaie said the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for Iraq's police forces, has to be cleansed of people who may be responsible for ``human rights violations." Many Sunnis charge that Shi'ite-dominated security services have been infiltrated by Shi'ite militias blamed for sectarian violence.

``There are a lot of officials who were responsible for committing numerous acts of foolishness and many human rights violations who are still in positions of responsibility," Zubaie said.

Eight bombings and mortar attacks killed at least 27 people and wounded dozens in the Baghdad area. The violence included a suicide bomber who blew up his car as it was being towed near a police checkpoint in Mahmoudiya, south of the city, killing four civilians and injuring 15. The bomber had claimed his car broke down and hired a tractor to tow it while he rode inside, police Captain Rashid al-Samarie said.

A mortar barrage also hit a residential area in Mahmoudiya, a predominantly Sunni town about 20 miles south of Baghdad, killing a civilian and wounding three.

In Baghdad , a mortar shell hit one of its best-known markets, in the predominantly Shi'ite suburb of Kazimiyah, killing at least four people , police said.

Police said a suicide bomber targeting an Iraqi Army patrol near Wathiq Square in the same neighborhood killed seven people when he blew himself up.

A bomb-rigged parked car exploded in southwest Baghdad, killing six people , police said. Three mortar rounds hit a market in the Bour area of northern Baghdad, killing two and wounding 14.

The blasts have occurred despite the security crackdown launched a week after bombs dropped by a US warplane killed Zarqawi June 7.

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