Three Soliders Missing in Iraq

In Iraq for a third day, thousands of U.S. troops backed up by aircraft and Iraqi forces continued their search for three missing American soldiers.

The condition of the men is not known, but their comrades want them back. Hugh Riminton has the latest from Baghdad.

Even as the search continues, a taunting message from the Al Qaeda backed Islamic State of Iraq on an insurgent website: "Searching for your soldiers will only exhaust and frustrate you. Your soldiers are in our hands. If you want their safety do not search for them."

On the third day, the search around Mamoudiya, an insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad known as the triangle of death, has brought no apparent breakthrough.

"At this time we believe they were abducted by terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda or an affiliated group, and this assessment is based on highly credible intelligence information," said Major General William Caldwell.

The capture of U.S. personnel touches the most senstive nerve in the U.S. military, whose motto is the same as their determination to leave no-one behind.

"We know," said the Al Qaeda based group. "You would rather have your entire army killed than have one captured."

"We are doing everything we can to locate our soldiers who did nothing but come here to serve our country and help the Iraqi people," Caldwell said.

It plays on every American mind in Iraq.

"It's horrible to think about what they're going through right now. I pray we can figure out where they're at and get 'em back," Major Chip Daniels said.

The three missing men have not been seen since their two vehicle team was ambushed. During that ambush four other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi were killed at the scene of the pre-dawn attack. According to analysts, there is little to no hope of negotiating their release.

"Al Qaeda, of all the various insurgent groups in Iraq, they're probably the most fanatical. And it's very unlikely that they can be brought off with money, or that they can be persuaded to compromise on other terms," said Peter Neumann of Kings College.

According to the U.S. military, it is receiving co-operation from ordinary Iraqis. There have already been tips from the Iraqi public, which have led to operations against what the Military calls targets of interest.

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