Video: Search for missing GIs in Iraq hits a snag

NBC News and news services
updated 5/15/2007 6:17:44 PM ET 2007-05-15T22:17:44

The U.S. military on Tuesday identified seven American troops killed or captured during a deadly weekend ambush south of Baghdad, as a massive search for three of the soldiers continued.

Three American soldiers and an Iraqi were killed in the weekend ambush near Mahmudiyah, and four others have been listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown, including one soldier who was killed but whose identity could not yet be determined, Pentagon officials told NBC News. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

The soldiers' patrol was attacked by enemy forces using automatic fire and explosives.

According to NBC, killed in the attack were:

  • Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tenn.
  • Private First Class Daniel Weston Courneya, 19, of Nashville, Mich.
  • Private First Class Christopher E. Murphy, 21, of Lynchburg, Va.

Listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown:

  • Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev.
  • Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.
  • Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif.
  • Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.

For a fourth day, jets, helicopters and unmanned surveillance aircraft crisscrossed the skies over the sparsely populated farm area near Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, to search for the missing soldiers. U.S. and Iraqi troops — backed by dog teams — searched vehicles and pedestrians. Other teams peered into crawl spaces and probed for possible secret chambers in homes.

U.S. troops have questioned hundreds of people and detained 11 in the search for the three American soldiers feared captured by al-Qaida militants during the May 12 attack.

“We have conducted more than 450 tactical interviews and detained 11 individuals” as of Monday night, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said.

Garver said the Americans were also turning to the local population, which he said “continues to be helpful in providing tips.”

The dead and missing were assigned to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum in New York.

5 contractors hurt in Green Zone attack
Also Tuesday, a mortar or rocket slammed into the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, wounding five U.S. Embassy contractors, a spokesman said. U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said there were no deaths and property damage was minimal. He said the contractors’ nationalities had “not yet been confirmed.”

Fintor said the embassy was “open and functioning normally.”

Elsewhere Tuesday, attacks using bombs or mortars killed a total of 10 people in two markets in Baghdad, and dozens of suspected insurgents attacked a village north of the capital, killing five civilians and wounding 14, Iraqi authorities said.

Group warns U.S. to halt search
On Monday, the Islamic State of Iraq — an al-Qaida front group that has claimed to have captured the soldiers — warned the U.S. to halt its search, and the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time that it believes the soldiers are in terrorist hands.

Last June, al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the deaths of two U.S. soldiers whose mutilated bodies were later found in the same area where a weekend ambush had occurred.

If all three soldiers now missing are taken hostage alive, it would be the biggest single abduction of U.S. soldiers in Iraq since March 23, 2003, when Pvt. Jessica Lynch and six others were captured in an ambush near Nasiriyah in which 11 Americans were killed.

They were last seen before a predawn ambush Saturday that destroyed several Humvees in a U.S. convoy and killed four Americans and one Iraqi soldier traveling with them.

At 9:15 a.m. Tuesday a bomb hidden in a minibus leaving a bus stop on a main road in Mahmoudiya exploded, wounding three Iraqi passengers, police said.

Al-Qaida has been active for years in the string of towns and villages in the area south of the capital. The mostly Sunni region is known as the “triangle of death” because of frequent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces as well as Shiite civilians traveling to shrine cities in the south.

During the search Monday, U.S. and Iraqi forces exchanged fire with gunmen near the town of Youssifiyah, killing two and injuring four, an Iraqi army officer said.

Civilians nervous to be seen cooperating
On Tuesday, an Iraqi interpreter working with the U.S. soldiers said the coalition’s search was focusing on rural areas outside Mahmoudiya and that life was proceeding as normal in the city.

But he also said Iraqi civilians being stopped for questioning by U.S. forces appeared nervous that they could be attacked by insurgents later, if they were seen cooperating with the coalition. The interpreter spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his own security.

The area around Mahmoudiya has long been especially volatile because Saddam Hussein recruited members of Sunni tribes there into his elite Republican Guard and intelligence services. Many of them were believed to have joined the insurgency after Saddam’s regime collapsed in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. U.S. officers also say extremists have fled Baghdad for surrounding areas to escape the three-month Baghdad security crackdown.

In other operations or violence in Iraq on Tuesday:

  • Unidentified gunmen killed Iraqi army Col. Raed Ahmed Shihab in Baghdad as he drove in the city, police said. He had worked for the Iraqi ministry of defense.
  • The U.S.-led coalition detained 10 suspected insurgents during raids targeting al-Qaida in Iraq and another hard-line militant Sunni group, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, in the cities of Mosul, Fallujah and an area near the U.S. Air Force base of Taji, north of the capital, the military said.
  • A roadside bomb apparently hit a U.S. convoy in the Kamalia area of southeastern Baghdad. Associated Press TV video showed one of the convoy’s trucks burning and two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters circling overhead. Later, when the fire went out, Iraq men and young boys were shown on the footage looting what remained of the truck.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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