Two American soldiers killed in Iraq

Iraqi group posts video of Iraqi-American soldier missing in Baghdad; US: "Sophisticated" weaponry used shoot down helicopter.

missing soldier 88 (photo credit: )
missing soldier 88
(photo credit: )
A US soldier died Wednesday after coming under small arms fire from insurgents while on patrol north of Baghdad, the military said. The Multi-National Division - Baghdad Soldier died of wounds sustained the day before when the combat patrol was ambushed while providing security after discovering a roadside bomb, according to a statement. Soldiers from the unit successfully located and disposed of the roadside bomb and found a small cache, adding to the seven improvised explosive devices and four caches found earlier this month, it added. A Task Force Lightning soldier also died Tuesday in a non-combat related incident, which is under investigation, the military said in a separate statement. The deaths raise to at least 3,128 members of the US military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Meanwhile, the uncle of an Iraqi-American soldier kidnapped in Iraq said that the video released of his nephew was an attempt by the abductors to prove the missing soldier was still alive. Entifadh Qanbar, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Washington, said the video came in response to his insistence that the kidnappers show him proof his nephew was alive. The US government has offered a US$50,000 (€38,400) reward leading to the recovery of Iraqi-born American Army translator Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who was abducted by gunmen on Oct. 23. SITE, a US group that monitors extremist messages, said on Wednesday that a previously unknown Iraqi Shiite militant group, called Ahl al-Bayt Brigades, had posted a video of the soldier, US Army Sgt. al-Taayie, kidnapped nearly four months ago while visiting his wife in downtown Baghdad. The posting, on Tuesday, contained a 10-second video showing al-Taayie, in front of a greenish flat surface, with short dark cropped hair, unshaven and wearing a wide collared dark-green shirt. His eyes were downcast and his lips moving as if he was reading aloud. Though the video carried no audio, SITE said that the militants also issued a document, stating: "We warn the American people of the result of sending their soldiers to Iraq so they don't face the same fate." The video was also broadcast earlier Wednesday by the American television network CNN. It was unclear when the video was made but Qanbar, al-Taayie's uncle, said he had identified him from the video. The AP could not immediately find the video in a search of militant web sites. Al-Taayie was declared "duty status whereabouts unknown" after he and a cousin were abducted in the Karadah neighborhood in central Baghdad on October 23, 2006. His cousin was later released. A former adviser to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, Qanbar had at the time said he believed his nephew's abductors belong to a "well organized" rogue cell from the Shiite Mahdi Army militia of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Qanbar said that he and the kidnappers had intermittently exchanged e-mails for about a month, but that he had not received any e-mails from them since Jan. 27. He said none of these e-mails repeated a demand made in the early days of the kidnapping for a U$250,000 (€192,000) ransom. "But I don't want to go into the details of what they are demanding now," Qanbar said. "They are very vague and they never say anything that's clear. They are professional and seem to know what they are doing." The kidnappers had also identified themselves as the "Brigades of Ahl al-Bayt" to Qanbar, he said. Ahl al-Bayt is Arabic for the family of the Prophet Muhammad and is a term widely used by Shiites in Iraq. "From the name I suspect it's a Shiite group," Qanbar said. Although it was not clear when the video was shot, Qanbar said his nephew looked to have lost weight, which he took to mean it was filmed weeks or months after the kidnapping. "It is not a sufficient proof of life, but, frankly, it was a big relief to see him alive after all those months," he said. "I am hopeful. I never lost hope when others told me he could be dead." Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, chief US military spokesman in Baghdad, said the military were aware of the video and were analyzing a copy of it to ascertain its authenticity. In Washington, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said military forces continue to try to find al-Taayie and he called on anyone with information to come forward. "American and coalition forces in Iraq continue to work with the family overseas and the US Army here in the United States continues to work with his relatives who are here in America," Boyce said. The US reward was offered after a massive search operation turned up no solid leads on al-Taayie, who was visiting his Iraqi wife when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen during a visit to the woman's family. The US military had said at the time that there was "an ongoing dialogue" to win al-Taayie's release, but didn't say with whom or at what level. Al-Taayie, whose name is also spelled Ahmed Kousay Altaie, was born in Iraq and moved to the United States as a teenager. He joined the Army Reserve in December 2004 and was deployed to Iraq in November 2005. Also Wednesday, a US military spokesman said that insurgents used "sophisticated" weaponry to shoot down a US Marine transport helicopter was that crashed last week northwest of Baghdad. Pentagon officials initially blamed mechanical problems for the crash of the CH-46 Sea Knight, which went down Feb. 7, killing all seven service members aboard. On Tuesday, the US Marines said further investigation confirmed the helicopter was brought down by hostile fire. "It was probably brought down by some sophisticated piece of weaponry," chief military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters. Caldwell did not elaborate and did link the incident to weapons, which the military says have been smuggled to Shiite extremists from Iran. The Sea Knight crashed in an area where Sunni insurgents operate. At least seven US helicopters have crashed or been forced down by hostile fire since Jan. 20. US officials have said extremists had used small arms against them, and Caldwell's statement was the first time a senior officer has spoken of sophisticated weapons, which could include shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.