U.S. army: At least two of kidnapped soldiers still alive
BAGHDAD - The top U.S. commander in Iraq thinks he knows who kidnapped three U.S. soldiers last weekend south of Baghdad, and believes that at least two of them are alive, the Army Times newspaper reported.
"We know who that guy is," Gen. David Petraeus said in an interview posted yesterday on the Army Times Web site.
Also yesterday, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms gunned down 15 men in a Kurdish Shi'ite village east of the capital, and a U.S. soldier was killed and another seriously wounded while searching for the abducted soldiers. Another four Americans were killed Friday, in the Baghdad area and in western Anbar province.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made one last visit to Iraq before leaving office next month, promising Iraq's leaders yesterday that they can count on British support, even as an explosion hit the British Embassy compound just before they met there, security officials said.
In his Army Times interview, Petraeus did not give the name of the suspected kidnapper but described him as "sort of an affiliate of Al-Qaida. He's the big player down in that area."
Petraeus, who spoke with the newspaper late Friday, said he did not know for certain whether the three 10th Mountain Division soldiers were alive.
"As of this morning, we thought there were at least two that were probably still alive," he said. "At one point in time there was a sense that one of them might have died, but again we just don't know."
U.S. forces have been searching for the three since they went missing May 12, after a pre-dawn attack on their observation position about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad. Four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi were killed during that attack.
An Iraqi army intelligence officer involved in the search for the kidnapped U.S. soldiers told The Associated Press that two men detained during the sweep have confessed that they took part in the attack.
One person was wounded in the barrage of three explosions directed at the Green Zone yesterday, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor. When Blair visited British forces in southern Iraq later in the day, two mortar rounds also exploded nearby, causing no injuries, British military officials said.
Blair, who was on his seventh visit here, said he believed security was improving, but acknowledged that shelling and bombings were still a daily part of life. He also said the next British government, which will be headed by current Treasury chief Gordon Brown, will continue to support Iraq after Blair leaves office in June.
Brown said last Sunday that Britain was divided over Iraq, but claimed most citizens accepted that it is in their interests to support Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration.
Britain has almost completed the process of pulling about 1,600 troops out of Iraq, leaving a force of around 5,500 based mainly on the fringes of the southern city of Basra.
The attack against the Kurdish Shi'ite villagers occurred early Saturday, when gunmen wearing army uniforms entered the village of Hamid Shifi, in Diyala province, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Baghdad. They rousted families from their homes and opened fire on the men, killing 15 of them, an Iraqi general and a Kurdish political party said.