- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

BAGHDAD — Gunmen dressed in military fatigues burst into the offices of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and a nearby mobile phone company yesterday, seizing 26 persons in a daylight raid in a mostly Shi’ite area of the capital.

Also yesterday, at least 30 persons were killed in political or sectarian violence across the country, police said. They included four Iraqi soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in northern Iraq, the first such attack in the Kurdish-ruled province of Dahuk.

The kidnappings occurred around noon when 15 four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying the gunmen pulled into the main shopping area of Karradah, an upscale residential district where several Shi’ite politicians live.

One group entered a mobile phone shop, the other went to the next-door office of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce, police said. The gunmen rounded up 15 staff and customers from the shop and 11 from the chamber office and drove away with them.

All the victims were believed to be Iraqis. The Iraqi-American chamber is an independent organization not affiliated with the U.S. government, and maintains branches throughout Iraq and in Amman, Jordan.

The Interior Ministry denied that the kidnappers were police — despite the uniforms — and blamed the attack on “terrorists,” Iraqi state television reported.

The raid occurred in the same neighborhood as the abduction two weeks ago of about 30 people, including the Iraqi National Olympic Committee chairman, during a meeting of sports officials.

A few have been released; those still missing include the committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya. The gunmen who seized the sports officials also wore fatigues and used the same kind of four-wheel-drive vehicles as the kidnappers yesterday.

In another incident yesterday, gunmen wearing fatigues blocked the car of a millionaire businessman in a Baghdad neighborhood and seized him and his two sons, leaving the man’s car in the street, police said.

U.S. officials estimate an average of 30 to 40 people are kidnapped each day in Iraq, although the real figure may be higher because few families contact the police.

Many abductions are believed to be tied to the ongoing violence between Sunni and Shi’ite extremists who target civilians of the rival Muslim communities.

The Iraqi government said yesterday that since February, 30,359 families — or about 182,000 people — had fled their homes because of sectarian violence and intimidation. That represented an increase of about 20,000 people from the number reported July 20.

The spate of kidnappings and killings has led to calls in parliament for replacing Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, who was appointed last month in a bid to put leadership of the internal security forces into the hands of someone unconnected to militias or avowedly sectarian parties. Mr. al-Bolani, a Shi’ite and former aviation technician, has no background in security.

Yesterday, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi confirmed that plans for a Cabinet reshuffle were in the works, but he would not identify which ministries would be affected.

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