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Iraq Transition

Americans among contractors abducted in Iraq

Story Highlights

• Abductions occurred at checkpoint, military spokesman says
• Arrest warrant issued for leading Sunni cleric, an Iraqi military official says
• 2,200 more Marines to be deployed to Anbar province
• 15 Iraqis killed in bakery shooting, other attacks
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Fourteen security contractors, including four Americans, were abducted Thursday when a supply convoy was ambushed in southern Iraq, a U.S. military spokesman told CNN.

Coalition troops were searching for the victims after the incident in Nasiriya, the spokesman said. He provided no other details.

A military spokesman in Baghdad confirmed the abductions occurred at a checkpoint.

ABC News, citing U.S. defense officials, reported up to 14 people working for Crescent Security Group were kidnapped.

Crescent, which operates out of Kuwait City, did not provide details except to say an incident occurred in southern Iraq.

"It's all speculation," said an operations manager for the company. "I can't confirm anything."

ABC News reported the convoy stopped at what looked like an Iraqi police checkpoint. Initial reports were that 19 trucks were seized and the 14 people detained, ABC said.

There was confusion, according to the report, about whether the checkpoint was operated by legitimate Iraqi police or a Shiite militia.

Crescent provides security for sites, individuals and convoys in Iraq, employing a mix of Western and local workers with military and law-enforcement experience, according to the company's Web site.

More troops to Anbar

As many as 2,200 more Marines are being deployed to Iraq's volatile Anbar province, U.S. Central Command officials told CNN Thursday.

The Marines -- from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Pendleton, California -- have been offshore on ships.

They will be moved to Iraq on orders from Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command. (Watch what generals think is needed in Anbar -- 2:01)

He referred to security challenges in the vast Sunni-dominated province when he testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Maj. Gen. Michael Maples, told the panel the province was not under control.

Marines and soldiers have been fighting militants in towns along the Euphrates River in the province west of Baghdad, and many of the U.S. troops who have been killed in combat died there.

Also Thursday, the Iraqi Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for Hareth al-Dhari, who heads the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of top religious leaders for the nation's Sunni minority, an Iraq military official said.

The warrant accuses al-Dhari of violating Iraq's anti-terrorism law by inciting sectarian violence and killings, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf told CNN. Al-Dhari has been a fervent critic of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government.

Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, a spokesman for the Sunni group, condemned the arrest warrant.

"This government should resign before the Iraqi people force it to resign," al-Faidi told the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera television network.

Bakery, cafe attacked

Meanwhile, insurgents gunned down nine people at a bakery in eastern Baghdad, among 15 people killed in attacks across the city Thursday, police said.

Two people were wounded in the bakery attack. In the same neighborhood, a civilian was killed and another wounded by a roadside bomb.

Fifteen people were taken by armed men from a cafe in al-Bataween district in central Baghdad early Thursday evening, according to a Baghdad emergency police official. He said at least 10 armed men from four vehicles swarmed the cafe.

In southwestern Baghdad, a civilian was killed and another wounded when a bomb strapped to a bicycle exploded. In central Baghdad, two civilians were killed and five were wounded by a car bomb planted on a main road.

Another person was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad's Qahira neighborhood; another died in a car bombing near a gas station on Palestine Street.

Authorities said they also found 35 unidentified bodies of people killed by gunshots in what was thought to be sectarian-related slayings.

Thursday's violence came a day after 17 people were killed in Baghdad attacks and 55 bullet-riddled bodies were discovered throughout the capital.

An aide to the minister of higher education said Thursday some of the dozens of men kidnapped Tuesday from a government research institute in Baghdad may have been tortured. (Watch aftermath of mayhem at Education Ministry and bakery -- :58)

At least 70 of the hostages -- some of whom were visitors to the facility -- were still missing, said the aide, Mohammed Ali. Authorities have given differing estimates of how many were kidnapped and how many have been released.

Hostages who were released reported the torture, although the Interior Ministry said it had not received such reports. (Full story)

U.S. troops killed in Diyala

A soldier with Task Force Lightning was killed Thursday by small-arms fire in Diyala province, the military said.

On Wednesday, three Task Force Lightning soldiers were killed in the province, the military said. Two were killed by a roadside bomb and the other was shot to death.

All four soldiers were assigned to the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division.

The military also said a U.S. soldier assigned to the Multinational Corps Iraq was shot and killed Tuesday in Baghdad.

The deaths brought the number of U.S. troops killed in the war to 2,857. Seven U.S. civilian military contractors also have died.

Other developments

  • A U.S. soldier accused of participating in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the slaying of her parents and younger sister was sentenced Thursday to life in prison after pleading guilty to all the charges against him. (Full story)
  • Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson will serve 21 months in confinement for his involvement in the April death of an Iraqi man in Hamdaniya, a military judge ruled Thursday.
  • Iraqi soldiers Thursday were in their second day of sweeping several villages near Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk for insurgents and illegal weapons, a U.S. military statement said.
  • During a visit to Turkey, Al-Maliki pressed his Turkish counterpart Thursday to persuade his country to forgive 80 percent of the debt Iraq incurred during the regime of Saddam Hussein, according to a statement from al-Maliki's office.
  • CNN's Ingrid Formanek, Jomana Karadsheh, Jamie McIntyre, Barbara Starr, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Michael Ware contributed to this report.

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