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Search Under Way in Iraq for Three Missing Coalition Soldiers

A massive search operation is under way south of Baghdad for three members of a U.S.-led patrol that came under attack Saturday morning. U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said of seven American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter in the patrol, five have been confirmed dead and three are missing. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from northern Iraq.

General Caldwell said the attack took place some 20 kilometers west of Mahmudiya, a rural area that has been a stronghold of al-Qaida linked militants.

The general said a nearby patrol heard explosions coming from the direction of the attacked unit. Attempts to contact the soldiers were unsuccessful. Fifteen minutes after the explosions, at 5 am local time, an unmanned vehicle observed two burning vehicles.

General Caldwell says U.S. and Iraqi forces have set up checkpoints in the area and are using aerial drones, helicopters and planes in the rescue effort.

"Make no mistake. We will never stop looking for our soldiers until their status is determined," he said. "And we continue to pray for their return."

He did not say whether the five dead soldiers were all Americans, nor did he disclose the fate of the Iraqi army interpreter.

Last June, al-Qaida militants kidnapped two U.S. soldiers in nearby Yusufiya. Days after their disappearance, their mutilated bodies were found booby-trapped with explosives.

Earlier, in March of last year, intruders staged an attack on an Iraqi family in Mahmoudiya, killing the father, mother and two young daughters. They also raped a 14 year-old daughter and burned her body. Five U.S. soldiers were charged in the attack. Three have pleaded guilty and two others are awaiting trial.

U.S. commanders say areas outside of the Iraqi capital have become more violent as militants flee the ongoing Baghdad security operation.

Attacks have continued inside the capital city as well. On Friday in Baghdad, suicide bombers killed at least 23 people and wounded 60 others in attacks on two bridges in the city.