The search for three missing American soldiers abducted after an attack south of Baghdad continued Monday as the al-Qaida group that claimed responsibility for the ambush said the soldiers would never be found.
"What you are doing searching for your soldiers will be in vain and lead to nothing but fatigue and unrest," said a statement posted on jihadist Web sites by the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella insurgent group that includes al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. "Your soldiers are in our hands. If you desire safety do not look for them."
The statement suggested that the group was reveling in a manhunt that required a hefty deployment of resources at a time when Congress has pressed the American military to show progress here by September.
About 4,000 American soldiers have been scouring the orchards and villages near Mahmudiya, a predominantly Sunni Arab farming town where the attack occurred early Saturday morning. A similar search involving 8,000 soldiers last June for two American soldiers captured in a town nearby forced commanders to cancel or delay operations in other parts of Iraq until after they were found dead four days later.
On Monday, the American military reported the deaths of four American soldiers, a Marine and an airman throughout Iraq.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the top military spokesman in Baghdad, said Monday that the search effort would continue. Of the four American soldiers and one Iraqi soldier who died in the ambush, he said in a statement, one American was still unidentified. "We are using every asset and resource available to the United States and our Iraqi allies in these efforts," he said.
He confirmed that American officials believe "al-Qaida or an affiliate group" engineered the abduction. He said it took 56 minutes for reinforcements to arrive at the scene of the ambush because the first and second units sent to assist discovered roadside bombs along the way. He also said that "elements of the same unit" that was attacked heard the initial explosion at 4:44 a.m., suggesting that the two Humvees burned at the scene had not been traveling alone.
Typically, American convoys include at least three vehicles.