- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

BAGHDAD — Gunmen in Interior Ministry commando uniforms stormed the offices of a private security company and kidnapped as many as 50 employees yesterday. Meanwhile, in a separate incident U.S. and Iraqi patrols reported the discovery of 24 shot or garroted bodies in the capital.

Also, Iraq’s Shi’ite vice president Adil Abdul-Mahdi signed a presidential decree calling parliament into session, breaking a major logjam that had delayed the creation of a unity government that U.S. officials hope can curb the unrelenting violence so their forces can start going home in the summer.

“He signed the decree today. I expect the first session to be held on Sunday or by the end of next week at the latest,” said Nadim al-Jabiri, head of one of seven Shi’ite parties that make up the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament.

Attackers hit the al-Rawafid Security Co. at 4:30 p.m. and forced the workers into seven vehicles, including several white sport utility vehicles, said Interior Ministry Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi. The victims, including bodyguards, drivers, computer technicians and other employees, did not resist because they assumed their abductors were police special forces working for the Interior Ministry, Mr. al-Mohammedawi said.

Interior Ministry Undersecretary Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Khafaji denied any involvement by his department, saying, “It is a terrorist act.”

Members of the Sunni Arab minority who dominated under dictator Saddam Hussein have accused the Shi’ite-led security forces of repeated abductions and killings under the cover of fighting the Sunni-driven insurgency. Many al-Rawafid employees are former members of Saddam’s armed forces.

The company is one of dozens providing protection for businesses and other clients in the violence-plagued country. One of its main clients is Iraqna, a cell-phone firm owned by Egyptian giant Orascom. Its offices are in Zayouna, a volatile mixed Sunni-Shi’ite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad.

Bombings, gunfire and other violence killed at least 12 others, Iraqi police and the U.S. military said yesterday. Among the reported deaths was a U.S. soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb Tuesday near the northwestern city of Tal Afar. Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, the military said.

An American military patrol found 18 of the bodies — all males — in an abandoned minibus Tuesday night on a road between two notorious mostly Sunni western Baghdad neighborhoods.

The bodies were brought to Yarmouk hospital and lined up on stretchers for identification. Most had bruising indicating that they were strangled, and two were shot, Dr. Muhanad Jawad said.

Police found the bodies of six more men — four of them strangled and two shot — discarded in other parts of the city.

The gruesome discoveries followed a surge of sectarian violence unleashed by the Feb. 22 bombing of a sacred Shi’ite shrine in the central city of Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. Although the sectarian killings have slowed, a string of explosions yesterday killed at least six persons, including two boys, in the capital, police said.

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