Gunmen kidnap Iraq aid workers

Dozens taken at Red Crescent in Baghdad

December 18, 2006|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Molly Hennessy-Fiske,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms kidnapped more than two dozen workers from the Baghdad offices of the Red Crescent humanitarian group yesterday, and the U.S. military announced the deaths of three American soldiers.

The gunmen pulled up to the Red Crescent building near Baghdad's Andalus Square about 11:30 a.m. in two police cars and 20 other cars, a spokesman for the medical group said yesterday. Staff members thought the men were police and allowed them to enter the building.

Once inside, the kidnappers separated men from women and abducted nearly 30 men, the spokesman said. Those taken included Red Crescent staff, visitors and three guards from the Dutch Embassy, which has been vacated but still shares space with the office, he said.

Red Crescent staff members called Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries and were told that neither had troops in the area, said the spokesman, who requested anonymity.

"We do not suspect anyone, as we are a humanitarian organization that does no harm to any bloc," he said.

The Red Crescent, which is affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross, has about 1,000 staff members and 200,000 volunteers in Iraq, providing food, water and medicine.

The U.S. military said three American soldiers were killed Saturday by a roadside bomb while on a combat mission north of the capital.

Their deaths bring the number of U.S. soldiers killed this month to at least 57, on pace to exceed last month, when 69 soldiers were killed, according to icasualties.org, which tracks casualties in Iraq. In October, 106 American soldiers were killed, according to the Web site.

According to the Web site, 2,946 American troops have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003.

During the 24 hours ending last night, Baghdad police found 36 bodies, all shot several times. Some had been handcuffed, blindfolded and tortured.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and then with British troops in the southern city of Basra. It was Blair's sixth visit to Iraq since 2003.

Blair commended al-Maliki's efforts to end sectarian violence and said that British troops will continue to train Iraqi soldiers and police "so that in time, the Iraqi people can take full responsibility for their affairs." More than 7,000 British troops are in Iraq, primarily in the south.

Also yesterday, Iraqi leaders followed up on recommendations from a reconciliation conference in the capital the day before, promising to meet again in about two months.

"Through accordance, pure intentions and actual work, we will be able to translate some of what have been mentioned [Saturday] into realistic accomplishments," said Nasir Ani, head of the political office of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group.

Sunni militias killed at least one woman yesterday in attacks on two villages near Taji, about 20 miles north of Baghdad. Militia members, mainly former fighters for Saddam Hussein's regime, had been sniping and shooting mortar shells into the area for the past four days, police said.

The insurgents set up makeshift checkpoints and burned a house in an effort to evict residents, police said, adding that the woman who was killed had refused to leave.

In the southern city of Iskandariya, two men were killed late Saturday after gunmen opened fire at them, according to a relative who delivered the victims' bodies to police yesterday.

In Hillah, a roadside bomb killed a soldier and injured another yesterday. The U.S. Consulate and an American base in the southern city were hit by mortar fire, police said.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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