Iraq seeks motive in abduction

Kidnappers free 17 more hostages

5 U.S. troops killed amid violence

June 23, 2006|By J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | J. MICHAEL KENNEDY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi officials were trying yesterday to piece together how and why gunmen abducted scores of factory workers Wednesday afternoon in Taji, the second mass kidnapping this month.

Earlier this month, men wearing police uniforms descended on a Baghdad bus depot and kidnapped about 50 people, dragging them off buses and out of shops.

Meanwhile, at least 25 people have been executed in Iraq's third-largest city this week, with bodies found scattered throughout Mosul. Elsewhere, five U.S. troops were killed in operations south and west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said yesterday.

Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, has a mixed Kurdish and Sunni Arab population. The Kurds, who are largely Sunni Muslim but not Arab, have formed a prosperous autonomous region nearby after decades of oppression and mass killings under the Sunni Arab minority that ran Iraq until dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted three years ago.

Police said they were not sure whether the attacks were carried out by the Sunni-led insurgency, common criminals or sectarian death squads. Increasing numbers of Iraqi deaths over the past months have been attributed to revenge killings carried out by Shiite-backed militia organizations or Sunni Arabs who have banded together in retribution.

The burst of killings was first reported Tuesday morning when police found the bodies of a husband and wife - both Kurds - shot to death in eastern Mosul. Before the day was over, 10 people were killed in shootings or found dead.

The killings persisted Wednesday, with eight people - including a child and a college student - shot to death by nightfall. Violence continued yesterday, said police Brig. Abdel-Hamid Khalf, with a policeman killed in a firefight with gunmen early in the day and six civilians shot to death before sunset.

The mass abductions and killing within three weeks were a reminder that the violence plaguing this country, and particularly the capital, has not been curbed by a major security clampdown recently put in place with much fanfare. The measures were intended as a show of strength by the new Iraqi government. Yet both kidnappings took place in daylight.

In Wednesday's incident, about 40 gunmen in minibuses descended on a factory in Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad. They kidnapped workers and their relatives who were getting on company-owned buses at the end of their shift. The employees were waiting to be driven to their homes in the poor Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of north and east Baghdad.

A short time later, the kidnappers released some of the workers, mostly women and children, but kept 50. Seventeen more were released yesterday.

One of those released, a Shiite Muslim, said the prisoners were divided according to ethnic background, and that he was released because he had forged papers identifying him as a Sunni Muslim. He said two captives were killed while trying to escape.

In the June 5 abduction, men wearing police uniforms kidnapped about 50 Iraqis less than a mile from the fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and many U.S. military operations are based.

Witnesses said about 50 men, all in uniform, blocked streets near one of the busiest public transport areas of Baghdad. There was no discernible sectarian motive to the June 5 raid. About 15 of the detainees were released the next day; the fate of the others is unclear.

Last March, another mass kidnapping took place when dozens of men wearing commando uniforms stormed the offices of al-Rawadid Security Co. and took away about 50 employees. They have not been heard from since, and the kidnappers have not been identified.

In other violence yesterday, a motorcade carrying the governor of volatile Diyala province from Baghdad to the provincial capital of Baqouba was attacked by a roadside bomb, killing two bodyguards, police and hospital officials said.

The governor, Raad Mawla, was critically injured when his car flipped. He and a bodyguard were being treated at a nearby U.S. military hospital.

According to witnesses, the governor's vehicle was so badly damaged in the explosion that few initially believed that he had survived the attack.

In the northern oil city of Kirkuk, gunmen in a mostly Arab neighborhood killed two traffic police in a drive-by shooting. A civilian was shot dead by unknown assailants in the nearby Sunni Arab city of Hawija, police said.

J. Michael Kennedy writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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