BAGHDAD (AFP) â€” Twenty-two Iraqi soldiers were kidnapped near the Syrian border, an Iraqi military source said Wednesday as four US soldiers were killed in less than 24 hours in attacks north of the capital.
With no let-up in the targeting of the country’s fledgling security forces, senior Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul Aziz Hakim demanded that the armed wing of his party play a greater role in hunting down insurgents, who have also singled out the country’s majority Shiite community for attacks.
The soldiers, all Shiites from the south, were nabbed by armed men in Rawa, about 250 kilometres west of Baghdad, after they had left their base, said the military source, adding that nothing had been heard from them since.
The defence and interior ministries could not confirm the report.
Rawa is in the predominantly Sunni Arab Anbar province that has seen several incidents of kidnapping and mass killing of Iraqi soldiers in the past.
In early March, the bullet-riddled bodies of at least 30 members of the security forces were found on the banks of the Euphrates near Qaim, another border town in the restive province.
Both US and Iraqi officials have accused Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of fighters through its border with Iraq.
And at another flash point on the Iraq-Syrian frontier, a joint Iraqi-US force pressed on with an offensive against insurgents in the northern town of Tal Afar, west of the main city of Mosul.
Four bombers were killed when their explosives-laden vehicle detonated prematurely in Tal Afar, said Captain Ahmed Amjad of the Iraqi police.
Troops have found and destroyed nine weapons caches and detained 73 suspects since the start of the operation in Tal Afar on May 26, the US military said, adding that it was part of about 30 solo Iraqi or joint anti-insurgency operations nationwide.
With the major offensive in Baghdad dubbed Operation Lightning in its third week, insurgents appear to have shifted their focus north of the capital in a familiar pattern of moving attacks from one area of the country to another whenever they come under pressure.
At least 49 Iraqis and four US soldiers have been killed since Tuesday in attacks north of the capital.
A US soldier was killed Wednesday when his patrol hit a roadside bomb near Ad-Dawr, a US military statement said.
In nearby Tikrit, ousted leader Saddam Hussein’s hometown, two US soldiers were killed late Tuesday in an “indirect fire attack” on their base, a military statement said.
Leaflets signed by the shadowy Islamic Army were plastered on shop fronts and walls in Tikrit claiming responsibility.
“The knights of the Ali Ben Abi Taleb Brigade fired a barrage of mortars and rockets last night at the citadel of infidels in the centre of Tikrit,” said the leaflet. Another US soldier based in Balad, also north of Baghdad, was killed in a roadside bomb Tuesday.
Other violence Wednesday included the killing of two guards of Kurdish Deputy Fraidun Abdulqader as they drove in the capital’s tense southern district of Dura.
In another sign of the majority Shiites’ determination to cement their position in power after years of oppression under Saddam’s Sunni dominated rule, Abdul Aziz Hakim called for greater influence over security matters for those who fought the previous regime. In recognition of the “sacrifices and heroic positions of our brothers and brave sons from the Badr Organisation… we must give them priority in bearing administrative and government responsibilities especially in the security field,” Hakim told a conference honouring Badr in Baghdad. He leads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a key member of the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. Its Badr Organisation replaced the Badr Brigade which was formed by former SCIRI boss and Hakim’s brother Mohammad Baqer Hakim in the 1980s to fight Saddam with backing and funding from Iran. After Saddam’s fall many Sunni Arabs accused Badr and other returning Shiite dissidents of leading a vendetta against them. The tension boiled over in mid-May with the murder of 14 Sunnis. At the time, Hareth Dhari, the head of the Committee of Muslim Scholars, Iraq’s main Sunni religious authority, openly fingered Badr as the culprit.