Gunmen Kidnap up to 150 at Baghdad Facility
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Here's another side of chaos in Iraq. Today in Baghdad, at least 100 people were reported kidnapped. They were kidnapped from a government building in the center of the city.
NPR's J.J. Sutherland reports.
J.J. SUTHERLAND: Karradah is a busy neighborhood full of shops and offices. Near a hospital for eye diseases, is an office building for the Ministry of Higher Education, a new modern building surrounded by concrete blast walls and checkpoints, it was thought to be guarded enough.
But this morning, around 9:30, 20 SUVs pulled up filled with armed men. The vehicles looked like those used by the Iraqi special police. The men were masked. They closed off streets around the area. The men burst into the building and started rounding people up. The Minister of Higher Education Abed Theyab al-Ajili said they went from floor to floor.
Minister ABED THEYAB AL-AJILI (Ministry of Higher Education): (Through Translator) This morning, the force consisting of a big number of vehicles -some had tinted windows - raided one of our offices. They claimed that they were Interior Commandos. They were wearing uniforms similar to those worn by Interior Commando troops. There were clashes between them and the guards at the office but they were able to enter the building. They kidnapped all the employees.
SUTHERLAND: The exact number of people kidnapped is unclear, but Parliamentarian stood up today during a session, and said as many as 150 people were taken away. He blamed coalition forces and the Iraqi government for failing to secure ministry buildings.
Mr. ALI AL-ADIB (Member of Parliament): (Through Translator) The consequences are grave. Kidnapping 150 people from a government office, without informing the minister of Higher Education, means that the operation that was conducted was kidnapping.
SUTHERLAND: Today, the commander of the police in the Karradah neighborhood was arrested. And four of his officers are being held, as well, in connection with the kidnapping. Iraqi police are often suspected of being infiltrated my militias. The Karradah neighborhood is controlled by the Badr Militia, which is loyal to one of the major parties in parliament.
The mass kidnapping is just the latest sign of the growing chaos in Iraq. Sectarian violence in Iraq has led some analysts to say the situation has slipped into civil war. Scores of bodies show up at the Baghdad morgue daily. Most of them are bound hand and foot, and killed with shots to the head and chest - execution style. Many also show signs of torture.
The dead are split almost evenly between Sunnis and Shiites. And now, many residents of Baghdad are so frightened of death squads that they rarely leave their homes.
Three of the people who were taken this morning have been released. They were abused and interrogated, and have no idea why they were kidnapped or why they were set free.
J.J. Sutherland, NPR News, Baghdad.