An insurgent group in Iraq says it abducted two U.S. soldiers who have been missing since an attack Friday south of Baghdad.
The group, linked to al-Qaida in Iraq, issued the claim in an Internet statement Monday. The authenticity of the statement from the Mujahideen Shura Council, could not be verified.
Officially, the U.S. military lists the soldiers' status as "whereabouts unknown." It says thousands of U.S. and Iraq soldiers and police are searching for the men. The military also says it has received 63 tips about the soldiers and has cleared 12 villages during the search for them.
In other developments, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says Iraqi forces will take over security from coalition forces in the southern province of Muthanna next month. British and Australian forces operate in the area, and Japanese troops provide humanitarian support there.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed that a handover will take place, but he did not say when.
British Defense Secretary Des Browne said today a new security plan is also being developed for the southern city of Basra to prepare for the eventual handover of security to Iraqi forces.
West of the capital, U.S. military aircraft flew over the volatile city of Ramadi as U.S. and Iraqi forces expanded efforts to isolate insurgents.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.