BAGHDAD – Ten U.S. soldiers were killed in roadside bombings and a helicopter crash on Memorial Day, the military reported Tuesday.
Eight of the soldiers were from Task Force Lightning. Six of them were killed when explosions hit near their vehicles, two others in a helicopter crash. The military did not say if the helicopter was shot down or had mechanical problems.
The military said two Multi-National Division-Baghdad Soldiers were killed the same day when their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad.
The deaths were announced in three statements issued by the U.S. military public affairs office at Camp Victory at Baghdad Airport.
In London, a Foreign Office spokewoman said five people kidnapped Tuesday at the Iraqi Finance Ministry in Baghdad were British. The spokeswoman gave the information on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
A senior official in the Iraqi Interior Ministry confirmed the five were British and that Mahdi Army militiamen were believed responsible. The official provided the information on condition that his name not be used.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said the abduction was carried out by men wearing police uniforms who showed up at the Finance Ministry in 19 four-wheel drive vehicles of the type used by police. He said the band of kidnappers drove off toward Sadr City, the Shiite Mahdi Army stronghold in northeastern Baghdad.
In McLean, Virginia, a spokesman for the BearingPoint security firm, said one of the kidnap victims worked for the company.
"We can confirm that there was a BearingPoint employee that was kidnapped in Iraq and we are working with the authorities to get more information," said Steve Lunceford, the company spokesman. "I cannot identify the employee or their nationality. We're not discussing that."
Initial reports indicated the kidnap victims were Germans working with the Finance Ministry computer systems.
Earlier this year, militants here kidnapped German citizens Hannelore Marianne Krause, and her adult son, Sinan, and threatened to kill them if Germany did not pull its troops from Afghanistan. German officials have not said what the mother and son were doing in Iraq, where they disappeared on Feb. 6. The fate of the two remains unknown.
In Tuesday's bombings, a parked minibus packed with explosives blew up in Tayaran Square, riddling cars with shrapnel, knocking over pushcarts and sending smoke into the sky, witnesses said. The blast killed 23 people and injured 68 others, a police official in the district said on condition he not be named. The official said his superiors refused to allow him to speak to reporters. Firefighters rushed to the scene and rescuers tried to pull the wounded out of cars, they said.
Yousef Qasim, 37, was working in his clothing shop 200 meters (yards) away when the blast tore through a line of buses waiting at the square, he said.
"I rushed there to see about four or five burning bodies," he said. "I saw flesh on the ground and pools of blood."
Shop owners grabbed their wares and tried to flee, fearing a second blast, said Talib Dhirgham, who owns a nearby laundromat. Police who arrived at the scene confiscated the cameras of journalists who came to cover the attack, according to AP photographers and television cameramen who went to the scene.
More than an hour later, a pickup truck parked next to a Shiite mosque in the Amil district in western Baghdad exploded, completely demolishing the mosque, killing 17 people and wounding 55 others, according to a second police official, who also spoke on condition anonymity because he felt use of his name would put his life in danger. The mosque was reduced to rubble and piles of brick, according to AP Television News footage. Cars were flipped over, charred and dented. Residents pushed debris off nearby roofs.
In other violence, gunmen in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, set up fake checkpoints on the outskirts of the city and abducted more than 40 people, most of them soldiers, police officers and members of two tribes that had banded together against local insurgents, a police official in the city said on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.
The attacks came a day after U.S. and Iranian officials met in Baghdad under the auspices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to try to end the violence here.
Anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Tuesday criticized the talks as interference in Iraq's internal affairs and warned Iraqi officials not to participate in them.
"I call on the brave people to reject these negotiations," he said in a statement released by his office in the holy city of Najaf.
On Monday, 36 people were killed across Baghdad in a wave of attacks, according to an AP tabulation of reports from police officials who said they could lose their jobs if they provided the information. Another 33 bullet-riddled bodies were found dead, tortured and abandoned in different parts of the capital, the apparent victims of ongoing sectarian violence, said an official in an Iraqi ministry who has access to daily reports. The official said he would be dismissed if his superiors knew he was releasing the information to Western media outlets.