It was one of the more chilling attacks on U.S. troops: an ambush on an isolated highway that left four American soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter dead and three Americans missing.
Seven months later, two of the soldiers have yet to be found, but Thursday the military announced a break in the case that could reveal their fate. A U.S. statement said two men had been arrested in Ramadi, about 60 miles from the scene of the May 12 attack.
Neither of the suspects was identified, but one is alleged to have used his home to hide the captured soldiers, the statement said.
A weapon belonging to one of the captured men was found in the home of one of the suspects, the statement said.
Attempts to find the missing soldiers, Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., and Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., have proved futile despite a massive search after the attack in an agricultural village along the Euphrates River.
Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, also was captured, but his body was found in the river 11 days after the ambush.
The four other U.S. troops died when their Humvees were attacked with grenades and gunfire by insurgents lying in wait in the dark.
A Sunni Muslim insurgent group linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack and put out a video showing some of the soldiers’ dog tags.
In July, the IDs of Fouty and Jimenez were found in a house north of Baghdad. In October, weapons belonging to some of the soldiers were found in a house a few miles north of the attack site.
A total of four U.S. troops are listed as missing since the start of the war in March 2003.
Also Thursday, there were conflicting accounts of a military raid in Kut, south of Baghdad. Representatives of anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr disputed American military assertions that its forces had killed “an estimated 11 terrorists” in the operation. A U.S. statement said those targeted were Shiite militiamen who had not adhered to a cease-fire that Sadr announced in August.
The statement said U.S. forces came under fire in Kut, about 100 miles southeast of the capital. The return fire led to the suspects’ deaths, it said.
But Sayid Jihad Maqsosi, speaking from the Sadr office in Kut, said those killed were “innocent, harmless people” who were asleep in their homes when U.S. forces raided the Jihad neighborhood. Maqsosi said four people were killed.
Maqsosi denied that anyone in the neighborhood remained active in militia activities and said that all were abiding by Sadr’s cease-fire. He disputed U.S. allegations that troops were fired on, saying it was too cold for gunmen to be outside.
Police in Kut offered yet another version. They said U.S. forces began the raid shortly after midnight, acting on tips that a meeting of militiamen was underway. The police said U.S. forces bombarded the house where the men were believed to be meeting, killing six suspected militia fighters. Ten civilians were injured, the police said.
The United States has praised Sadr for calling on his Mahdi Army militia to halt aggression but says it will continue to go after Shiite militia fighters who have not halted activities against U.S. forces and Iraqis.
It is common for Iraqis to dispute U.S. accounts of raids and to accuse the military of killing innocent civilians. Often the truth is never determined.
Another disputed incident took place Thursday in Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, where police said a U.S. military convoy opened fire on a car that apparently did not heed orders to stop. Police said the troops sprayed the vehicle with gunfire, killing the driver. A search of his car did not turn up any weapons.
“He was not carrying any weapon and he was killed unjustly,” said a relative of the man, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
The U.S. military said it was looking into the report.
In Baghdad, a bomb exploded near a minibus taxi in an eastern neighborhood, killing two people. In the Karada district, a bomb targeting the convoy of a police colonel injured one of his guards and two civilians.
In the country’s north, a bomb targeting an Iraqi military convoy about 70 miles south of Kirkuk killed two soldiers.
Times staff writer Raheem Salman and special correspondents in Baghdad
and Kirkuk contributed to this report.