A suicide car bomber killed at least three Iraqis Monday near the Green Zone housing the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government, and the U.S. military said two American airmen died in a roadside bomb blast north of the capital.
Intensive efforts continued to secure the release of kidnapped American Jill Carroll, 28, with U.S. and Iraqi authorities conducting joint operations in a bid to free the journalist. Carroll was abducted in Baghdad on Jan. 7.
The two U.S. airmen were killed and a third was wounded in an attack on a convoy Sunday near Taji, where a U.S. air base is located 12 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.
The deaths brought the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to at least 2,226, according to an Associated Press count.
Carroll has not been heard of since her kidnappers released a videotape that was first aired on Jan. 17 and accompanied by a threat that she’d be killed if U.S. forces did not release all Iraqi women in military custody.
Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said six of the nine women were expected to be freed later this week as part of a routine release planned before the kidnappers’ ultimatum. But he believed the U.S. military was wary about the releases being seen as part of a swap for Carroll.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the efforts to free Carroll, said American authorities refuse to negotiate with hostage-takers.
“But we are using the full resources available from the U.S. law enforcement and diplomatic side, plus the cooperation of the Iraqi government, to secure Jill’s freedom,” the official said. [Reuters reported over the weekend growing anger among some Iraqis about house raids that are part of the search efforts.]
Another hostage, Jordanian Embassy driver Mahmoud Suleiman Saidat, appeared in footage aired on Al-Arabiya TV pleading for his life. His captors also extended the deadline to kill Saidat, who was kidnapped on Dec. 20.
The kidnappers said they were giving neighboring Jordan more time to cut ties with the Iraqi government. They also want Jordan to free a female would-be suicide bomber whose explosives belt failed to go off during Nov. 9 attacks that killed 60 people at three hotels in the Jordanian capital, Amman. al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility.
More than 250 foreigners have been taken hostage, either by insurgents or gangs, since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam. At least 39 have been killed.