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Terror Group: U.S. Soldiers Are Captives

An al Qaeda front group announced Sunday it had captured American soldiers in a deadly attack the day before, as thousands of U.S. troops searched insurgent areas south of Baghdad for their three missing comrades.

The statement came on one of the deadliest days in the country in recent weeks, with at least 124 people killed or found dead. A suicide truck bomb tore through the offices of a Kurdish political party in northern Iraq, killing 50 people, and a car bombing in a crowded Baghdad market killed another 17.

Troops surrounded the town of Youssifiyah and told residents over loudspeakers to stay inside, residents said. They then methodically searched the houses, focusing on possible secret chambers under the floors where the soldiers might be hidden, residents said. The soldiers marked each searched house with a white piece of cloth.

Soldiers also searched cars entering and leaving the town, writing "searched" on the side of each vehicle they had inspected. Several people were arrested, witnesses said.

It's a massive search, including 4,000 U.S. troops, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. And increasingly desperate, to ease the anguish of the missing and their families.

On its web site, the Islamic State in Iraq claimed credit for the ambush, and for capturing "a number of crusader soldiers."

It said more details — implying proof — will come soon, adds Strassmann.

The Islamic State in Iraq offered no proof for its claim that it was behind the attack in Mahmoudiya that also killed four U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi translator. But the Sunni area known as the "triangle of death" is a longtime al Qaeda stronghold.

If the claim proves true, it would mark one of the most brazen attacks by the umbrella Sunni insurgent group against U.S. forces here.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for the U.S. military, said U.S. troops backed by aircraft and intelligence units were scouring the farming area as the military made "every effort available to find our missing soldiers."

President Bush was also getting regular updates on the missing soldiers, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council in Washington.

The early morning attack on two U.S. military vehicles outside of Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, left the bodies of the four U.S. soldiers and their translator badly burned.

Caldwell said the bodies of the interpreter and three of the slain soldiers had been identified, but the military was still working to identify the fifth.

Later Sunday, the Islamic State of Iraq posted a brief message on a militant Web site saying it was responsible for the attack and held an unspecified number of U.S. soldiers. The group promised more details later.

The Islamic State is a coalition of eight insurgent groups. Late last month, it named a 10-member "Cabinet" complete with a "war minister," an apparent attempt to present the Sunni coalition as an alternative to the U.S.-backed, Shiite-led administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

U.S. military officials said they had no indication of who was behind Saturday's attack.

"It's difficult to verify anything that al Qaeda in Iraq would say because they lie," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman. However, "it would not surprise us if it were al Qaeda behind this, because we've seen this type of attack, this type of tactic, before."

In Other Developments:
  • The United States and Iran said Sunday they will hold upcoming talks in Baghdad about improving Iraq's security — a historic political turnabout that comes amid a last-ditch U.S. military and diplomatic push to stabilize the country.
  • Iraqi lawmakers say Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki plans to give Sunnis more say in security operations in their areas. The deal would stave off a threatened Sunni walkout that could have toppled the al-Maliki's embattled government. Lawmakers describe the agreement as an understanding and not a formal pact; similar arrangements have broken down in the past. The deal could help assuage Sunni complaints that security forces dominated by Shiites unfairly target Sunni areas but have not cracked down on Shiite militias linked to influential lawmakers.
  • A suicide bomber in northern Iraq slamming a truck into local offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is headed by Massoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. At least 50 people were killed and 115 were wounded, including the city's mayor, Abdul Rahman Delaf, who also is a prominent Kurdish writer, and the director of the KDP office, said Ziryan Othman, the health minister of the Kurdish regional government.
  • In Baghdad, a parked car exploded near the popular Sadriyah market in the center of the city Sunday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 46, police said. AP Television News footage showed a crater in the ground filled with debris, splintered wood, metal and a tire.
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