BALAD, Iraq—Two U.S. soldiers missing since Wednesday were found dead Saturday in another grisly sign that post-war Iraq is slipping deeper into violence.
While few details were disclosed about the circumstances of their deaths, the soldiers' bodies were found about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad. They were last seen guarding a rocket demolition site near Balad, some 56 miles northwest of the capital, before they and their Humvees disappeared.
News reports upon their disappearance identified the soldiers as Sgt. 1st Class Gladimir Philippe, 37, of Linden, N.J., and Pfc. Kevin Ott, 27, of Columbus, Ohio.
The military confirmed that three Iraqis have been detained for questioning in "the possible abduction."
The American-led coalition recently has suffered a growing number of enemy-fire casualties—approaching two a day on average. More than 20 U.S. soldiers have died in attacks since major combat operations were pronounced over on May 1. Military officials now remind regularly that warfare is far from over.
If the crowds of men in grocery stands, butcher shops and open-air markets near Balad are any indication, those officials are right.
"We will sacrifice ourselves until we get the Americans out of Iraq," said Hassan Abid, a 41-year-old butcher who lives outside Balad. "Next week, we will be volunteers to explode ourselves against the Americans."
Asked who else would join Abid, many in the surrounding crowd shouted "All of Iraq!"
Hekmat Ibrahim, a local farmer, nodded in agreement. "Where is the freedom? What do the Americans give to the Iraqi people," he said. "I am the first one who will fight the Americans, we are going to reorganize ourselves and attack the Americans at once."
It has been a bad week for coalition forces in Iraq:
_ On Friday a soldier with a civil affairs unit—part of the military that tries to smooth things over with the locals and guide reconstruction—was shot in the head while shopping in northwest Baghdad. That same day, a soldier with the U.S. 1st Armored Division was killed in north Baghdad during a grenade attack on a convoy that also wounded four others.
_ A soldier with the 1st U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force was shot and killed Thursday in the southern city of Najaf.
_ Six British soldiers were killed and eight wounded during a Tuesday gun battle on the streets of Majar al Kabir, south of Baghdad.
A top military official in Iraq, speaking on condition that he not be named, said Saturday that "this war is not over, that's clear to all of us."
At the Baghdad convention complex, a nerve center of coalition operations, soldiers this week have double-stacked concertina wire outside and put up a maze-like series of sand-filled walls, making the place look like a fortress under siege.
"We know that poor Iraqis are being recruited to shoot at Americans for $10, $20 and $30," the same official said. "All of these factors are weighing on us."
The official said that explosive devices are being put on the roads of Baghdad daily.
Coalition officials say that violence against coalition soldiers is led by pockets of fighters loyal to former dictator Saddam Hussein. Those same forces, officials have said, without offering evidence, are sabotaging infrastructure—such as power lines—and making it harder to bring electricity and water to Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million people.
Some Iraqis say that is grossly oversimplified if not flatly wrong. Instead of a Ba'athist plot, they say, the killings are more of a revenge cycle.
In Balad earlier this month, for example, Iraqis attacked an American tank convoy with a rocket-propelled grenade, and in the search that followed, U.S. soldiers killed seven people, five of them civilians. Incidents like that, not love for Saddam, many Iraqis say, are behind the attacks.
No one interviewed in Balad on Saturday, for all of their anti-American rhetoric, said they wanted Saddam back in power. They just want the United States to leave.
Fadhal Jafer is a spiritual leader and keeper of a Shi'ia Muslim shrine in Balad. It attracts busloads of Iranian tourists. He said he is grateful to the United States for removing Hussein, who killed and imprisoned many Shi'ias in the area.
But he seems unhappy about the tanks in his city.
Speaking a in a low, even voice, Jafer tried to explain his unease.
"You have to invite even your enemy for three nights, this is the way of Islam," Jafer said. "But after he stays for three nights, we will ask him what he wants. If he is an enemy, we will show him the way back to his country."
Jafer, a very important figure in the area, has not met with any U.S. military representatives. To speak with him, they must come to the shrine. But the Koran, he said, forbids "invaders" from entering a holy site.
Capt. Alex Williams and his men from the 4th Infantry Division have been occupying a house in the countryside outside of Balad for about two weeks. Saturday four tanks were parked in front of the house with soldiers stationed here and there holding machine guns. Sweating in the shade, the troops watched as the occasional car rambled by on a dirt road.
Williams said they are shot at with AK-47s and small arms almost every night.
"This is a hot zone right here," he said.
Deciding who is friend and who is foe in a country where he does not speak the language is hard to do sometimes, he said.
"This place changes block to block, it depends on the tribe," he said, referring to the collection of tribes in the area. "A lot of these guys want to fight each other over century-long disputes."
And some, he said, want to kill Americans.
(Knight Ridder correspondent Dana Hull contributed to this report from Baghdad.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.