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Iraq: Two Missing GIs Found Dead

A senior Iraqi military official said Tuesday the bodies of two missing U.S. soldiers have been found near the town where they went missing, but the U.S. military said it could not confirm the report.

At his weekly press briefing Tuesday morning, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell refused to confirm or deny the report, saying it would be inappropriate for the families to hear first from the press.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed said the bodies were found on a street near a power plant in the town of Youssifiyah, just south of Baghdad. U.S. Maj. Doug Powell said he could not confirm the report.

Maj. Frank Garcia, public affairs officer of the 2nd Brigade, 101 Airborne Division, said two bodies had been found, but had not yet been identified.

"There were two bodies found, but they are still going through the process of determining whether they are the missing soldiers or not," he said. "There was some human remains that were found. Two bodies."

The White House says the Pentagon does not yet have confirmation, reports CBS News correspondent Peter Maer.

The Defense Department has identified the missing men as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon.

In other developments:

  • Japan ordered the withdrawal of its ground troops from Iraq on Tuesday, declaring the humanitarian mission a success. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the 600 non-combat troops — deployed in early 2004 — had helped rebuild infrastructure in the area where they were based, and he pledged further aid to Iraqi reconstruction.
  • The story in Iraq was breaking as the president traveled to a summit with European Union leaders. Iraq will be high on the agenda, reports Maer, as the president discusses U.S. plans there while pushing European countries to pay their promised share of economic aid for Iraq.
  • Colleagues of the U.S. soldier whom Italian authorities are seeking to indict in the death of an Italian intelligence agent at a Baghdad checkpoint last year say he was "devastated" after the fatal shooting. Mario Lozano, a member of the Manhattan-based 69th Infantry Regiment, "was just doing his job. That car was moving too fast. It didn't respond to at least three warnings," Staff Sgt. Edwin Feliciano, a member of Lozano's platoon who was on the airport road that evening, told the New York Daily News in Tuesday's editions.
  • A suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up in a home for the elderly in the southern city of Basra on Tuesday, killing two people and wounding three, police said.The motive of the attack was unclear, police Lt. Col. Karim al-Zaida said. The two killed were elderly woman, he said.
  • Fierce election-year debate on Iraq spilled over into a second week on Capitol Hill with Senate Democrats lining up behind a proposal to start U.S. troop withdrawals this year and Republicans chastising them for espousing a "cut-and-run" strategy. CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports Democrats are split, some calling for the pullout of some U.S. troops, others for the removal of all of them. Neither amendment is likely to pass.

    The soldiers came under attack Friday at a traffic checkpoint near Youssifiyah. A third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack.

    "The news is going to be heartbreaking for my family," Ken MacKenzie, Menchaca's uncle, told an American news show.

  • He said the United States should have paid a ransom from money seized from Saddam Hussein.

    "I think the U.S. was too slow to react to this. Because the U.S. did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid with his life."

    More than 8,000 Iraqi and American troops searched for the missing soldiers on Monday.

    Yusifiyah, long a Sunni insurgent stronghold, sits about 12 miles South of Baghdad, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan, amid apple orchards and farm fields, crisscrossed by a series of irrigation canals.

    The soldiers were alone, near one of those canals, when local witnesses say their Humvee was surrounded by masked gunman. The rest of their unit heard the attack, but it was too late for the three soldiers.

    "Words cannot express the sadness we fell as the loss of Spc. Babineau and the uncertainty of the families of Pfc. Menchaca and Pfc. Tucker must be experiencing," said Caldwell. "Our deepest sympathy goes out to their families."

    The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization for a variety of insurgent factions led by al Qaeda in Iraq, offered no video, identification cards or other evidence to prove that they had the Americans. The group had vowed to seek revenge for the June 7 killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in a U.S. airstrike.

    In a second statement issued minutes after the first, the same group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of four Russian Embassy workers and the killing of a fifth in Baghdad on June 3.

    In the statement, the council taunted U.S. forces for failing to find the two American soldiers, who went missing Friday during an attack on their checkpoint in a Sunni district south of Baghdad.

    "The events reconfirm the weakness of the alleged American intelligence and it's going astray in Iraq," the statement said.

    "The American military has launched a campaign of raids using armor and equipment, in the region around the incident, but the army of 'the strongest nation in the world' retreated in defeat and disgrace," the statement said.

    The attack has been described by Pentagon officials as taking place when a squad of soldiers was manning a checkpoint at a bridge. When they started taking fire from insurgents, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports, part of the squad set off in pursuit, leaving three soldiers alone at the checkpoint. One was found dead, and the only sign of the other two was a trail of bloody footprints leading away from the humvee.

    "I was 95 percent sure he was one of them," Menchaca's brother, Julio Cesar Vasquez, of Houston, told The Associated Press late Sunday. "I already had an idea because he was at a checkpoint."

    Menchaca's wife, 18-year-old Christina Menchaca, of Big Spring, Texas, said military representatives told her Saturday they were taking "every means possible to find him," she said.

    "We're basically just watching the news because no one else knows anything about it, no one has heard anything about it," she said. "We're just going by what the news has to say."

    The statement dealing with the Russians gave the Moscow government 48 hours to withdraw from Chechnya and to release all "our sisters and brothers in the Russian prisons."

    "Otherwise this (Russian) government will be responsible for the consequences," the statement said. It did not say what the consequences would be.

    As the White House awaits Pentagon confirmation of the Iraqi report, says Maer, the case of the two soldiers is grim evidence of the president's warning of more challenges ahead in Iraq. It's also a blow to administration hopes for progress following the death of al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi earlier this month.

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