- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

12:14 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s higher education minister said today that as many as 80 kidnap victims are still being held and some of the 70 who have been freed were tortured.

On Tuesday, gunmen disguised in the blue camouflage uniforms of police commandos raided the Higher Education Ministry in Karradah, a primarily Shi’ite area of downtown Baghdad, handcuffed scores of people and took them away in about 20 pickup trucks.

Government officials have given varying numbers on how many people were abducted and how many have been freed.

Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab reaffirmed that 70 of 150 hostages were released and said those freed “were tortured and suffered a lot.”

Mr. Theyab, a Sunni Muslim, said on state television that his decision to suspend his membership in the Shi’ite-controlled Cabinet until the crisis was resolved was not driven by politics. He nevertheless issued a sharp attack on the country’s security apparatus.

“Those in charge of security should be responsible for security,” he said of the Interior Ministry, which runs the police and security agencies.

He labeled “a farce” the lack of security that has allowed the widespread kidnappings and killings of people such as college students and professors in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.

Earlier, Theyab spokesman Basil al-Khatib said some of those freed after the mass kidnapping told officials that some victims had been killed by their abductors, believed to be Shi’ite militiamen.

“Some of the hostages were tortured and killed, according to eyewitnesses from among the captives who were released,” Mr. al-Khatib said in a telephone interview. He said he didn’t know how many hostages had fallen victim to such abuse.

Government ministries have given different reports on the number of persons seized, ranging from a high of about 150 to a low of 40 to 50.

National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie issued a statement that contradicted Mr. Theyab and claimed just 50 persons in total had been kidnapped, all were released, and no one was killed.

Deadly attacks continued in the capital, with suspected insurgents and militias using guns, bombs and mortar shells to kill 18 Iraqis. Four U.S. Army soldiers also were reported killed during combat missions.

U.S. forces said they killed nine suspected al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents during a raid in a rural area south of Baghdad, and more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers carried out a military operation in northern Iraq with American air and artillery support.

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