View Full Version : US doubts al Qaeda claim to hold 2 marines in Iraq

10-02-05, 01:49 PM
US doubts al Qaeda claim to hold 2 marines in Iraq
By Alastair Macdonald1 hour, 38 minutes ago

The U.S. military rejected an al Qaeda claim on Sunday to be holding two U.S. marines hostage in western Iraq as Marines attacked al Qaeda guerrillas in the region for a second day.

A statement on a site used by the group said: "Al Qaeda soldiers succeeded in kidnapping two marines ... Al Qaeda gives the infidels 24 hours to release female Sunni Muslim prisoners ... or they should not bother to look for their children."

But a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan, said: "I have not heard anything about any of our folks being taken. I would suspect that these are unfounded rumors, as that is what has happened in the past."

It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the Web statement, which was signed with a name that usually accompanies the group's official announcements.

It said the Marines had been captured during "Operation Iron Fist," the latest of many recent offensives by about 1,000 U.S. troops against al Qaeda around Qaim on the Syrian border.

The U.S. military said it had killed eight guerrillas on Saturday, and rejected allegations by local doctors that civilians had also been killed in U.S. air strikes.


Interior Minister Bayan Jabor told Reuters that documents seized after troops killed a purported aide to al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, indicated a plan to spread Islamist violence to other Arab countries.

"We got hold of a very important letter from Abu Azzam to Zarqawi asking him to begin to move a number of Arab fighters to the countries they came from, to transfer their experience in car bombings in Iraq," Jabor he said in an interview in Amman.

"So you will see insurgencies in other countries," said Jabor, a member of the Shi'ite Islamist SCIRI party, a key component of the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led coalition government.

Foreign Arab militants now numbered fewer than 1,000, compared to between 2,500 and 3,000 six months ago, he said, though security forces were also expecting a spike in bombings ahead of an October15 referendum on a post-Saddam constitution.

After an opinion poll forecast turnout would be as high as 80 percent, one of Iraq's electoral commissioners said voter registration had gone well, including among the once dominant Sunni Arab minority, which largely boycotted a January election.

U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope the vote can draw the nation together, but critics say it may only entrench division.

"There is an enthusiasm to vote. Even in the last month we have registered one million more people," Farid Ayar told Reuters. "There will be attacks on the day, but I don't think it will be worse than we saw in the January elections.

"What can the insurgents do that's worse? There are already car bombs every day."

General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said the level of Sunni participation in the political process was more important than approval of the constitution.

"If a legitimate government emerges that is broadly seen as being representative of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish interests, I think there is no reason to suppose that we can't bring force levels down in the spring," he said.

And General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told CNN: "The people of Iraq think of themselves as Iraqis, and people are not interested necessarily in seeing the fragmentation of the country. And I don't see that happening,"


In the Reuters interview, Jabor lashed out at Iraq's fellow U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia, for saying Iraq could break up along sectarian and ethnic lines, fuelling wider regional conflict.

Iraq's leaders have urged fellow Arab governments, including Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, to do more to help prevent the influx of foreign fighters and funding for the insurgency.

But the new administration in Baghdad has struggled to win acceptance from the Sunni Muslim leaders of the rest of the Arab world, who remain suspicious of its dependence on Washington and sectarian ties to non-Arab, Shi'ite Iran.

Telling Saudi Arabia to mind its own business, Jabor lashed out at comments 10 days ago by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who said Iraq was heading toward disintegration and voiced disquiet over the growing influence of Iran in a country that Washington hopes can be a model Arab democracy.

"We as Iraqis are responsible for solving our own problems," Jabor said.

He was speaking a day after his brother, a pediatrician, became the latest of thousands of kidnap victims in Iraq.

"This is a pressure card against me and a clear message," he told a news conference, adding that no demands had been made.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Yara Bayoumy in Dubai, Majid al-Rawi in Qaim and Luke Baker and Sebastian Alison in Baghdad)