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Iraq

Mahdi Army May Be Responsible for Kidnappings

Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army may be responsible for the kidnappings of five Britons from an Iraqi government office, an Iraqi official said Wednesday.

The top Interior Ministry official, who asked not to be identified, said authorities are working on the assumption the five were abducted by the Mahdi Army because the area they were taken from is controlled by the Shiite militia.

Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi troops swept through the Sadr City section of Baghdad conducting pre-dawn raids on Wednesday. U.S. military officials said in a statement that six suspected militants were arrested. The six are believed to be part of a cell that smuggled weapons from Iran and sent militants to Iran for training, but the statment did not link them to the kidnappings.

If the Mahdi Army is responsible, the kidnappings could have been in retaliation for last week's killing of the militia's commander by British forces in Basra.

The men were abducted from inside an Iraqi Finance Ministry office by about 40 heavily armed men wearing police uniforms during daylight hours. The group then drove toward Sadr City in a convoy of 19, four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Betsy Palmer, vice president of global communications for the McLean, Va.-based BearingPoint, confirmed that one of the company's employees was among those kidnapped. The company is a management consulting and systems integration firm with offices worldwide.

Palmer said the company is not giving out any details about the employee or the company's activities in the region. "We are so sensitive to the security of this situation," she said.

The other four victims worked for Montreal-based security firm Garda World Security Corporation. Joe Gavaghan, a spokesman for Garda World, confirmed that four of its security workers and a client were kidnapped.

Canon Andrew White, the Anglican vicar of Baghdad, is working with religious leaders in Iraq in attempt to free the men. "We're working very hard with various religious leaders to try to work at this issue, but it's not easy. It's very, very difficult."

White said he has only carried out indirect talks with possible mediators and refused to comment on who may have taken the men.

"We haven't spoken directly to anybody," he said, adding that no demands had been issued by the captors. It's a very complex situation at the moment, and we have to be very careful."

Compiled from NPR and The Associated Press reports.

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