|Iraqi police officers patrol in Madaen|
Western journalists say Iraqi and U.S. military forces seeking to end an alleged hostage crisis south of Baghdad have come up empty-handed.
A French news agency reporter embedded with U.S. troops near Madaen says a 1,500-strong Iraqi force backed by U.S. troops found no evidence that hostages had been seized in the town.
Sunday, Iraqi officials said insurgents were holding as many as 100 captives, and Iraqi television said Sunni kidnappers had threatened to kill the hostages within 24 hours unless all Shi'ites left town.
Monday, the French reporter said the coalition force found deserted streets and shuttered shops when it entered the town. An Associated Press photographer gave a similar account.
Late today, Iraqi officials continued to give conflicting accounts of events at Madaen, while some residents and observers said government accounts had been greatly exaggerated.
Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.