IRAQI GUNMEN SEIZE 26 IN DAYLIGHT RAID
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer July 31, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen dressed in military fatigues burst into the offices
of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and a nearby mobile phone company Monday, seizing 26 people in a daylight raid in
a mostly Shiite area of the capital.
Also Monday, at least 30
people were killed or found dead in political or sectarian violence across the country, police said. They included four Iraqi
soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in northern Iraq, the first such attack in the Kurdish-ruled province of Dahuk.
The kidnappings occurred
around noon when 15 four-wheel drive vehicles carrying the gunmen pulled into the main shopping area of Karradah, an upscale
residential district where several Shiite politicians live.
One group entered a mobile
phone shop, the other went to the next door office of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said.
The gunmen rounded up 15 staff and customers from the shop and 11 from the chamber office and drove away with them, Mahmoud
All the victims were believed
to be Iraqis. The Iraqi-American Chamber is an independent organization not affiliated with the U.S.
government, and maintains branches throughout Iraq and in Amman, Jordan.
The Interior Ministry denied
that the kidnappers were police — despite the uniforms — and blamed the attack on "terrorists," Iraqi state television
The raid occurred in the
same neighborhood as the abduction two weeks ago of about 30 people, including the Iraqi National Olympic Committee chairman,
during a meeting of sports officials.
A few have been released;
those still missing include the committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya. The gunmen who seized the sports officials also wore
fatigues and used the same kind of four-wheeled drive vehicles as the kidnappers Monday.
Also Monday, gunmen wearing
fatigues blocked the car of a millionaire businessman in a Baghdad
neighborhood and seized him and his two sons, leaving the man's car in the street, police Lt. Bilal Ali Majeed said.
It was unclear whether the
brazen operations were carried out by government police or paramilitary commandos, or sectarian militias or criminals wearing
military fatigues, which are widely available in Baghdad markets.
U.S. officials estimate an average of 30-40 people are kidnapped
each day in Iraq, although the real figure
may be higher because few families contact the police. Security officials believe most of the ransoms end up in the hands
of insurgent and militia groups.
Many abductions are believed
to be tied to the ongoing violence between Sunni and Shiite extremists who target civilians of the rival Muslim communities.
On Monday, the government
said that since February, 30,359 families — or about 182,000 people — had fled their homes due to sectarian violence
and intimidation. That represented an increase of about 20,000 people from the number reported July 20.
In other violence Monday,
according to police: a Sunni imam, Abdul-Aalem sl-Jumeili, was shot dead late Monday in his home in Fallujah; two mortar shells
exploded in a mixed neighborhood in southern Baghdad, killing a civilian; also in the capital, gunmen killed a Health Ministry
employee, Maad Jihad, Monday afternoon.
The shootings, kidnappings,
bombings and extortion have prompted a public outcry about the effectiveness of Iraq's
U.S.-trained security forces, whose ranks are believed infiltrated by Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias and common criminals.
That has led to calls in
parliament for replacing Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, who was appointed last month in a bid to put leadership of the
internal security forces into the hands of someone unconnected to militias or avowedly sectarian parties — a key U.S. demand.
But al-Bolani, a Shiite
and former aviation technician, had no background in security. Iraqi politicians complained that they were unable to find
someone with a security background who was not linked to a sectarian party.
On Monday, Vice President
Adil Abdul-Mahdi confirmed that plans for a Cabinet reshuffle were in the works but he would not identify which ministries
would be affected.
Other Iraqi lawmakers said
changes the Interior Ministry were difficult because the Americans would have to approve them. The lawmakers spoke on condition
of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The United States had hoped the establishment of the government of national unity — with
Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — would bolster public confidence and lead to a decline in violence so that U.S. and other international troops could begin heading home.
Instead, the U.S. military is boosting its force in Iraq
and sending at least 3,700 soldiers from northern Iraq into Baghdad to cope with a surge in violence that started when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's
government took office in May.
Al-Maliki conferred late
Sunday with his key security ministers, and afterward issued a statement saying the government was drafting plans to bolster
forces in five Baghdad-area communities with the worst sectarian violence.