Seven Soldiers Die in Iraq; Search Continues for Missing GIs

Seven American soldiers and a translator were killed in separate attacks in Baghdad and a city south of the capital, the U.S. military said Sunday.

Six of the Americans and the translator died Saturday in a bombing in western Baghdad, the military said. The soldiers were from the Multinational Division-Baghdad.

A soldier from the 13th Sustainment Command was killed and two were wounded when a blast struck their vehicle Saturday near Diwaniyah, a mostly Shiite city 80 miles south of Baghdad, the command said.

On Sunday, a homicide bomber exploded a tanker truck near an Iraqi police checkpoint outside a market west of Baghdad, killing at least two officers and injuring nine people, police said.

Police said they suspected chlorine gas was used in the attack in a town just outside the turbulent city of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. But the U.S. military said it had no reports chlorine was used.

Police grew suspicious of the truck as it approached the checkpoint and opened fire when it was still yards away. But the bomber still managed to detonate the explosives, police said.

Later Sunday, a bomb planted under a parked car exploded in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Bab al-Sharji, near the Zahraa Shiite mosque, police said. The blast killed two civilians, wounded 10 and damaged nearby houses and the mosque, police said.

Several hours later, a mortar shell landed in a commercial area in central Baghdad, killing one person and wounding three, police said.

South of Baghdad, thousands of U.S. soldiers kept up their search for three missing comrades, more than a week after they were abducted.

At least one U.S. soldier was killed Saturday and four were wounded as insurgents attacked the searchers with guns, mortars and bombs. The military reported a dozen other U.S. troop deaths in Iraq since Thursday.

The search for the missing soldiers involves some 4,000 troops who "will not stop searching until we find our soldiers," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. "We're using all available assets and continuing to assault the Al Qaeda in Iraq network," he said.

An Al Qaeda front group has claimed responsibility for the May 12 attack in Quarghuli, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, that resulted in the kidnapping and the deaths of four American soldiers and an Iraqi aide.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq, told the Army Times newspaper in an interview Friday night that U.S. forces were focusing on an insurgent who is "sort of an affiliate of Al Qaeda."

He said an informant provided U.S. forces with names of those who took part in the raid and kidnapping but they were still at large.

"We've had all kinds of tips down there. We just tragically haven't found the individuals," he said.

Petraeus said he did not know whether the three missing soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division were alive. But "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."

An Iraqi army intelligence officer, who said he helped interrogate two suspects detained in recent days in Mahmoudiya, said they confessed to participating in the raid. Mahmoudiya is the largest town in the search area.

They said 13 insurgents conducted the surprise attack and then escaped in two groups. The leader of the group, along with some gunmen, took the kidnapped soldiers to an unknown destination, he said.

He added that the two detainees gave interrogators the hiding place for weapons used in the ambush and U.S. troops confiscated them.

In a northern Baghdad raid, meanwhile, U.S. forces killed a Shiite militant believed to have been the mastermind of a brazen January attack in Karbala that led to the capture and subsequent killing of four U.S. soldiers, the military said Sunday.

U.S. troops had been pursuing Azhar al-Dulaimi "relentlessly," since the Jan. 20 attack, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the spokesman for the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, told a major cable news network.

In that sophisticated attack, gunmen speaking English, wearing U.S. military uniforms and carrying American weapons attacked a joint military command headquarters in the southern city of Karbala where U.S. military officers and their Iraqi counterparts were meeting.

The attackers killed one soldier and abducted four others, whom they later shot to death.

"You know, anybody who kidnaps an American soldier and murders them, we're going to continue to hunt down. And that's exactly what we've been doing with this guy," Caldwell said of al-Duleimi.

Troops located al-Duleimi on Friday morning and tried to capture him, but he was killed in the ensuing battle, Caldwell said.

Meanwhile, President Jalal Talabani left Iraq on Sunday for a trip to the United States that was expected to include a medical checkup. The trip came four months after Talabani was rushed to a Jordanian hospital where doctors said he was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration caused by lung and sinus infections.

"I will go to the U.S.A. and stay nearly three weeks to lose weight and have some rest and relaxation ... away from meetings and work," Talabani, a 73-year-old Sunni Kurd, said before boarding a plane in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A senior Kurdish politician close to the Iraqi leader said Talabani was going for a checkup at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., that had been scheduled for weeks. The politician spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the president's plans.

Azad Jindyani, spokesman of Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, denied the president had health problems.

"Talabani's health is very good, but he felt tired recently ... because of the work and meetings," he said.

Talabani was the second top Iraqi politician to fly to the United States for medical reasons in four days.

Senior Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim flew there aboard a U.S. military aircraft Wednesday for further tests to determine if he is suffering from lung cancer, according to members of his staff.