Ten American soldiers died in roadside bombings and a helicopter crash on Memorial Day, the military reported Tuesday, making May the deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops in Iraq.
In other violence, five Britons were kidnapped Tuesday from an Iraqi government office in Baghdad, driven away in a 19-vehicle convoy filled with men in police uniforms who headed toward a Shiite stronghold in the capital, the British government and an Iraqi official said.
The American deaths raised the number of U.S. forces killed this month to at least 112, according to an Associated Press count assembled from U.S. military statements.
Eight of the soldiers were from Task Force Lightning — six killed when explosions hit near their vehicles and two 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.
Captors in uniform
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said the abduction at the Iraqi Finance Ministry office was carried out by men wearing police uniforms who showed up 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 London, a Foreign Office spokewoman said the five people kidnapped Tuesday 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.
In McLean, Va., Steve Lunceford, a spokesman for the BearingPoint management consulting firm, said one of the kidnap victims worked for the company. The other four were employees with the Montreal-based security firm GardaWorld, according to Joe Gavaghan, a spokesman for the Canadian company.
In Baghdad, 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.
Yousef Qasim, 37, was working in his clothing shop 200 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.
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.
More than an hour later, a pickup truck parked in a market for spare car parts exploded in the Amil district in western Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding 55, police said. The blast damaged 10 nearby houses and a Shiite mosque and set eight cars ablaze, police said.
40 people abducted
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, police said.
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.
On Monday, 36 people were killed across Baghdad in a wave of attacks. Another 33 bullet-riddled bodies were dead, tortured and abandoned in different parts of the capital, the apparent victims of ongoing sectarian violence.