WORLD / Middle East

Masked gunmen took 2 US soldiers
Updated: 2006-06-19 08:34

An Iraqi farmer said Sunday that he saw seven heavily armed gunmen capture two American soldiers during an attack on a road checkpoint south of Baghdad, while US troops searched for their comrades for a second day.

Another Iraqi said the Americans were offering US$100,000 for information leading to the abductors, but the US command denied that.

Members of the US military and an Iraqi policeman, right, attend the scene after a car bomb exploded near a university killing one woman and wounding 19 other people in the northern city of Mosul in Iraq Sunday, June 18, 2006. [AP]

The White House promised to do everything it could to find the soldiers and said it had a message for anybody who may have taken the two men: "Give them back."

Gunmen, meanwhile, kidnapped 10 bakery workers in Baghdad, and a mortar attack killed four people in the capital. Police also found 17 bodies around the city, including four women and a teenager handcuffed and shot in the head - apparently the latest victims of sectarian death squads.

While suffering the new blows to his effort to restore security in Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pushed ahead with negotiations on a plan for reconciling the country's ethnic and religious communities.

But his proposal, which would include a limited pardon for insurgents according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press, has been snarled by stark differences on that issue among the various groups, legislators said Sunday.

US troops, backed by helicopters and warplanes, fanned out across the "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad searching for the two missing servicemen, but the military offered no new information after saying Saturday that at least four raids had been carried out.

The predominantly Sunni region is the scene of frequent ambushes of US soldiers and Iraqi troops.

Ahmed Khalaf Falah, a farmer who said he witnessed the abduction of the Americans on Friday, said three Humvees were manning a US checkpoint near Youssifiyah, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, when they came under fire from many directions.

Page: 12