- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

BAGHDAD — Gunmen kidnapped the chairman of Iraq’s Olympic committee and at least 30 others yesterday in a brazen daylight raid on a sports conference in the heart of Baghdad. Armed clashes erupted elsewhere across the capital.

Parliament extended the national state of emergency as at least 27 persons — including two American soldiers — were killed in sectarian or insurgency-related violence.

At about 1:30 p.m., gunmen in about dozen vehicles pulled up outside the meeting of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee, police and witnesses said. They entered the conference center, blindfolded and handcuffed participants and bodyguards, hustled them into the vehicles, and sped away.

Those kidnapped included Ahmed al-Hijiya, chairman of the Olympic committee, and the presidents of the tae kwon do and boxing federations, said police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud. The bodies of two of the bodyguards were found later, dumped along a street.

The International Olympic Committee in Geneva condemned “these acts against the sport community” and called for the immediate release of the hostages.

The abduction occurred a day after Iraq’s national wrestling team withdrew from a tournament in the United Arab Emirates; the team’s Sunni coach was killed Thursday in a Shi’ite district of Baghdad.

It was not clear how many people were kidnapped, though police officials said there were as many as 50 victims. Other details also were not clear: Some witnesses said the attackers were masked and wore police uniforms. Others said the gunmen were unmasked and wore civilian clothes. Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani denied any police involvement.

Nonetheless, the mass abduction illustrates the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Iraqi capital, despite a much-heralded security plan for the city announced last month by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sectarian killings have increased, and Iraqi politicians have complained that the police and army seem powerless to stop them. The violence has undermined confidence in Mr. al-Maliki’s government, which took office May 20, and in the capability of the U.S.-trained Iraqi police and army.

Parliament yesterday approved a one-month extension of the state of emergency that has been in effect since November 2004. The emergency had been renewed every month by the prime minister, but the new constitution gives that power to the legislature.

The measure gives the government special powers to restrict movement and public gatherings and to conduct searches and make arrests. It applies nationwide, except in the three Kurdish-ruled provinces of northern Iraq.

In other violence yesterday:

• Two U.S. soldiers were killed in separate bombings in Baghdad, in the Shi’ite district of Sadr City and in the southern part of the capital, the military said. At least 2,549 members of the U.S. military have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

• A roadside bomb hidden in a box near a supermarket exploded in southern Baghdad, killing six persons and wounding 11 others, police said.

• A suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol in eastern Baghdad, killing two paramilitary commandos and wounding four persons, two of them civilians, police said. Another suicide driver attacked a police patrol in northern Baghdad, wounding six persons, including two policemen, officials said.

• At least six persons were killed in scattered clashes between Iraqi soldiers and gunmen in the capital. Seven persons were injured in a mortar attack near Haifa Street in downtown Baghdad, blocks from the Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and British embassies, police said.

• Small-scale shootings and bombings in Baghdad and the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk killed nine persons. In Kirkuk, a local leader of the ethnic Turkmen community escaped injury when a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy, wounding 16 persons, eight of them his bodyguards, police said.

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