BAGHDAD (AP) _ Seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi army interpreter came under attack Saturday morning during a patrol in a Sunni insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad, leaving five dead and three missing, the military said.
Troops were searching for the three missing, using drone planes, jets and checkpoints throughout the area, according to the statement. Soldiers were also asking local leaders for information.
After the pre-dawn attack near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad in a Sunni insurgent stronghold dubbed the Triangle of Death, nearby units heard explosions and a drone plane later observed two burning vehicles, the statement said.
Troops who arrived later found five of the soldiers dead. The other three members of the patrol were gone, according to the statement, from Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.
The military refused to specify whether the Iraqi interpreter was among those killed or among the missing, citing security.
``Make no mistake: We will never stop looking for our soldiers until their status is definitively determined, and we continue to pray for their safe return,'' Caldwell said.
An Iraqi army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information, also said joint U.S.-Iraqi forces were conducting house-to-house searches in the area and all roads had been closed to Mahmoudiya.
Five U.S. soldiers have been charged in the rape of a 14-year-old Mahmoudiya girl and the killing of her and her entire family, and three have pleaded guilty in the March 12, 2006, attack, which was initially blamed on insurgents.
On June 16, 2006, two American soldiers who went missing in the same area were later found dead, tied together with a bomb between one victim's legs.
Two other U.S. soldiers remain missing in action, including Sgt. Matt Maupin, of Batavia, Ohio, missing since April 2004; and Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old Iraqi-born reserve soldier from Ann Arbor, Mich., who was abducted while visiting his Iraqi wife on Oct. 23 in Baghdad. Capt. Michael Speicher, a Navy pilot, also has been missing since the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The military on Saturday also announced the death of an American soldier mortally wounded in a bomb attack Friday near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad.
In the Iraqi capital, police on Saturday closely guarded two bridges damaged by suicide car bombers in what appears to be a new strategy by suspected Sunni insurgents of targeting crossovers in the capital.
Friday's attacks in predominantly Shiite areas of the city brought to five the number of bridges that have been targeted by large explosions in Baghdad since March 21.
It remains unclear whether the main goal of Iraqi insurgents is to spark sectarian violence by targeting bridges that unite predominantly Shiite and Sunni areas of the city, or to knock out vital supply and transportation links in the capital.
Friday's suicide car bombers attacked two bridges that cross the Diyala River, a tributary of the Tigris, and are located about 2 1/2 miles apart in southeastern Baghdad.
The two attacks, within moments of each other, killed at least 23 Iraqis and wounded 57, including police at checkpoints and civilians driving or walking across the bridges, police said.
On Saturday, the old Diyala bridge, which American forces had rebuilt after destroying it at the start of the Iraq war, had one of its two lanes open to traffic and pedestrians. Police kept everyone away from a large hole blown through the concrete span over the Diyala River. Blood stains from the bombing could still be seen at some points on the bridge.
Nearby, on the two-lane new Diyala bridge, remnants of the truck that a suicide attacker apparently used were located near a large hole in the concrete crossover, exposing large rods of steel. The hole in the low-lying bridge was filled with water.
In another development, The New York Times reported Saturday that a draft of a new American government report says that between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels of Iraq's declared oil production of 2 million barrels a day over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling. Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report says the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily, the paper said.
The U.S. and Iraqi governments are under pressure to show progress in Iraq by raising oil production, which has been well below the U.S. goal of 3 million barrels a day. Virtually the entire economy of oil-rich Iraq is dependent on oil revenues.
The New York Times said the draft U.S. government report it obtained was prepared by the U.S. Government Accountability Office with the help of government energy analysts. The paper says the report is expected to be released within the next week.
It does not conclude what happened to the missing fraction of the roughly 2 million barrels pumped by Iraq each day, but its findings are expected to reinforce long-standing suspicions that smugglers, insurgents and corrupt officials control significant parts of the country's oil industry, the paper said.
It said the draft report also covered alternative explanations for the billions of dollars worth of discrepancies, including the possibility that Iraq has been overstating its oil production.
Dozens of people, meanwhile, took to the streets in the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba to demand the release of four women they said were detained Friday by U.S. troops. The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the protest.