A body pulled from the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday was identified as one of three U.S. soldiers abducted two weeks ago...
BAGHDAD — A body pulled from the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday was identified as one of three U.S. soldiers abducted two weeks ago in an ambush claimed by al-Qaida, relatives said.
A second body was also found in the area, but it was not immediately clear if it was also one of the missing soldiers, according to a U.S. military official.
Military officials told the family of Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. of Torrance, Calif., that a commanding officer identified the remains recovered from the river but that DNA tests were still pending.
“They told us, ‘We’re sorry to inform you the body we found has been identified as Joe,’ ” said the soldier’s aunt, Debbie Anzack. “I’m in disbelief.”
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Anzack, 20, vanished along with the two others after their combat team was ambushed May 12 about 20 miles outside of Baghdad. Five others, including an Iraqi, were killed in the ambush, subsequently claimed by al-Qaida.
Hassan al-Jibouri, 32, said he saw the body with head wounds and whip marks on its back floating on the river Wednesday morning. He and others alerted police.
U.S. forces disclosed nine more deaths Wednesday, raising to 20 the number of U.S. troops killed in four days.
The deaths of the seven soldiers and two Marines in a series of attacks Monday and Tuesday brought the U.S. death toll for the month to at least 80.
Last month, 104 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq. As of Wednesday, at least 3,431 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war.
The spike in U.S. deaths and the discovery of the bodies come at a difficult moment for Washington, where the Bush administration and Congress are struggling to agree on funding for the unpopular war. The search for the captured soldiers has also taken thousands of troops out of the pool of forces for the Baghdad security crackdown.
Nationwide, at least 104 people were killed in sectarian violence or found dead Wednesday, including 32 who perished in suicide bombings. One bombing took place 60 miles west of the capital, the other in a city to the east near the Iranian border.
In the search for U.S. soldiers, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi forces have trudged in temperatures above 110 degrees through desert and lush farmland, sometimes wading in sewage-polluted irrigation ditches.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the remains, later identified as those of Anzack, were recovered by Iraqi police.
Witnesses said the police, using civilian boats, searched for other bodies on the river in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, and U.S. troops intensified their presence on a nearby bridge as helicopters flew overhead, witnesses said.
The military has warned that U.S. casualties were likely to increase as troops made more frequent patrols during the U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad, now in its fourth month.
The other missing soldiers are Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.
At Jimenez’s father’s home in Lawrence, a former mill city north of Boston, a yellow ribbon was tied on the front door. Ramon Jimenez, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator in a cellphone conversation that he has been buoyed by the support of friends and family.
“The hope is very high that God is going to give Alex back to him,” said Wendy Luzon, a family friend who translated the conversation and has been serving as a spokeswoman for the family.
In Commerce Township, Mich., about 25 miles northwest of Detroit, a dozen trees that line the road leading to Fouty’s high school were adorned with yellow ribbons.
Fouty’s step-grandmother, Mary Dibler of Oxford, Mich., said the family was heartened by the support but saddened by the news about Anzack.
“We’re just continuing the same as we have been, one day at a time,” Dibler said. “We continue to pray; that’s all we can do.”