Abduction of Americans in Iraq latest security lapse
Baghdad — The abduction of three Americans from a Baghdad apartment over the weekend is the latest in a series of brazen high-profile kidnappings undermining confidence in the Iraqi government’s ability to control state-sanctioned Shiite militias that have grown in strength as Iraqi security forces battle the Islamic State group.
Witnesses said men in uniform carried out the kidnapping in broad daylight Saturday, 100 yards from a police station.
“Gunmen in military uniforms came in five or six SUVs, they entered the building and then left almost immediately,” said Mohammad Jabar, 35, who runs a shop down the street from the three-story apartment building where the Americans had been invited by their Iraqi interpreter.
“A few hours later we heard that three foreigners had been kidnapped by these gunmen,” Jaber said.
The three were abducted in Dora, a mixed neighborhood that is home to both Shiites and Sunnis. However, they were then taken to Sadr City, a vast and densely populated Shiite district to the east, and there “all communication ceased,” an Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
A similar scene unfolded in September, when masked men in military uniforms abducted 18 Turkish workers from a construction site in a Shiite neighborhood. A hostage video later showed the men standing before a banner that read “Death Squads” and “Oh, Hussein,” a Shiite religious slogan. The workers were released later that month.
In December, gunmen driving SUVs raided a remote camp for falconry hunting in Iraq’s overwhelmingly Shiite south, kidnapping 26 Qataris, who are still being held. Iraq’s Interior Ministry said at the time that the abduction was “to achieve political and media goals,” without providing further details.
Baghdad authorities said in a statement that the three Americans were kidnapped from a “suspicious apartment” without elaborating, and have provided no other details.
The kidnapping of the Americans comes at a time of deteriorating security in and around the Iraqi capital after months of relative calm.
The scale and sophistication of the recent kidnappings of foreigners suggest those responsible are operating with some degree of impunity, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics.