BAGHDAD, Iraq—Gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms rolled up in a convoy to the nation's Finance Ministry on Tuesday and kidnapped at least five Britons without firing a shot.
It wasn't clear whether the kidnappers were police or insurgents in commandeered police vehicles, but the midday maneuver, brazen even by the standards of Iraq's beleaguered capital, amplified suspicions about the extent to which Shiite Muslim militias have penetrated the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military Tuesday reported the deaths of 10 more American soldiers, six of them killed trying to rescue fallen comrades, and two bombings in the capital left 33 civilians dead, making this the bloodiest month for Iraqis this year and one of the deadliest for U.S. troops in four-plus years of combat and occupation.
The Memorial Day deaths of eight U.S. troops in volatile Diyala province north of Baghdad brought the month's total to at least 112, making it the worst month for U.S. troop deaths in Iraq since November 2004.
President Bush and his military commanders have braced for heavier casualties this summer as the full 28,000-troop surge takes effect and the administration's Baghdad security plan, which began in February, plows forward.
Monday's casualties began when a U.S. military helicopter encountered ground fire and crashed shortly afterward, killing two soldiers on board. An Army quick-response team that headed to the crash site to provide security was hit by multiple roadside explosions, killing six troops and wounding three others traveling in multiple vehicles.
It was unclear whether the crash was the result of enemy fire or mechanical problems, said Lt. Col. Chris Garver, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military in Baghdad. Also unclear was whether the road blasts were coordinated with the attack on the helicopter or merely a deadly coincidence.
"We have seen that tactic before where al-Qaida or insurgents or whoever creates an incident, and then the routes to the scene are mined," Garver said. "But it's hard to figure out if that's what happened here."
The military said that all eight of those killed were members of Task Force Lightning, which includes troops from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, based at Ft. Hood, Texas, and 82nd Airborne Division, from Ft. Bragg, N.C. The task force operates from Tikrit, the hometown of the late dictator Saddam Hussein.
Military officials also confirmed that two U.S. soldiers died Monday in southern Baghdad after a roadside explosive struck their vehicle.
The assault on the Iraqi Finance Ministry was one of the most audacious the capital has seen. Witnesses said a long convoy of sport utility vehicles similar to those used by Iraqi police pulled up to the Finance Ministry office in eastern Baghdad at about 11:50 a.m. Tuesday.
About 40 armed commandos in black uniforms—similar to those worn by police but widely available in the country—hauled away the Westerners, said the witnesses, who asked not to be identified for fear they could lose their government jobs. It's common in Iraq for thugs to disguise themselves as police, but some police units also have carried out sectarian killings and kidnappings.
The British Embassy said that five of its citizens were taken in the kidnapping. The embassy wouldn't comment on reports that the five included four men in a security detail and their client.
Elsewhere in Baghdad, a suicide car bomber in a Toyota struck al-Midan Square and killed at least 18 and wounded 50 or more.
Car mechanic Bahim Alazzawi was working on an engine about a quarter mile from the blast when the ground shook.
"People were carrying away the wounded and police were blocking off the streets to make way for the ambulances," he said. "I think five cars were on fire."
The explosion hit a downtown crossroads of produce stands and small shops where commuters change minibuses. Police reportedly seized the cameras of journalists trying to cover the aftermath of the blast. The government recently imposed a ban on photographing bombing scenes, claiming that the coverage gives terrorists a way to assess the damage and tailor their methods.
This week the Iraqi parliament halted the C-SPAN-like coverage of its sessions. Mohammed Jabbar, a spokesman for the Political Council for National Security, said the telecasts were ended out of fear that heated parliamentary debates would incite more violence in the streets.
Another suicide car bombing hit the al-Amal neighborhood in southwest Baghdad and killed 15 people and injured about 60, police sources said. That bomb destroyed at least four homes and leveled a Shiite mosque. On Monday, a bombing near the most prominent Sunni mosque in Iraq, the Abdul Qadr al-Gailani mosque, killed 22 people.
While American casualties are on the rise in Baghdad, so are violent civilian deaths. On Monday alone, another 30 corpses were found in Baghdad, 36 more people were killed in violent incidents and 127 people were injured.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.