Gunmen seize 30 in brazen attack in Baghdad
Gunmen seized the chairman of Iraq’s Olympic committee and at least 30 other people on Saturday in a brazen daylight raid on a sports conference in the heart of the city as armed clashes erupted in scattered parts of the capital.
Parliament extended the national state of emergency as at least 27 people—including two American soldiers—were killed in sectarian or insurgency-related violence.
The raid on the meeting of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee meeting occurred about 1.30pm at a conference centre in the city’s Karradah district, according to police and witnesses.
Gunmen arrived at the centre in about a dozen vehicles and entered the room where the meeting was taking place. Kidnappers blindfolded and handcuffed the participants and their bodyguards and hustled them into the vehicles, which sped away.
The victims included Ahmed al-Hijiya, chairman of the Olympic Committee, as well as presidents of the taekwando and boxing federations, according to police Lieutenant Thaer Mahmoud. Bodies of two of the bodyguards were later found dumped along a street.
In Geneva, Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee condemned “these acts against the sport community” and called for the immediate release of the hostages.
The kidnapping occurred one day after Iraq’s national wrestling team pulled out of a tournament in the United Arab Emirates after its Sunni coach was killed on Thursday in a Shi’ite part of Baghdad.
Numerous details of the kidnapping were unclear, including the precise number of people seized.
The Ministry of Interior issued no comprehensive account, and some police officials placed the figure as high as 50.
Some alleged witnesses said the gunmen were masked and wearing police uniforms. Others said there were no masks and the assailants wore civilian clothes. Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani denied that police had carried out the raid.
Nonetheless, the mass abduction illustrates the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Iraqi capital, despite a much-heralded security plan for the city unveiled last month by Prime Minister Jawad al-Maliki.
Since then, sectarian killings have been on the rise, and Iraqi politicians have complained that the police and army seem powerless to stop them. The violence has undermined confidence in al-Maliki’s government, which took office May 20, and in the capability of the US-trained Iraqi police and army to maintain order.
Two US soldiers died on Saturday in separate bombings in the Baghdad area, one in the Shi’ite district of Sadr City and the other in the southern part of the capital, the US military said.
The deaths raised to at least 2 549 members of the US military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Also on Saturday, a roadside bomb hidden in a box near a supermarket exploded in southern Baghdad, killing six people and wounded 11 others, police Lientenant Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.
A suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol in eastern Baghdad, killing two paramilitary commandos and wounding four people, two of them civilians, police said. Another suicide driver attacked a police patrol in north Baghdad, wounding six people, including two policemen, officials said.
At least six people were killed in scattered clashes between Iraqi soldiers and gunmen in the capital, police said. Seven people were injured in a mortar attack near Haifa Street in downtown Baghdad, only blocks from the Green Zone that houses the US and British embassies, according to police.
A total of nine other people were killed in smallscale shootings and bombings in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, where a local leader of the ethnic Turkomen community escaped injury when a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy. Sixteen people were wounded, half of them his bodyguards, police said.
With security in Baghdad and surrounding provinces deteriorating, the Parliament on Saturday 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 measures gives the government special powers to restrict movement and public gatherings as well as conduct searches and arrests. It applies nationwide except in the three Kurdish-ruled provinces of northern Iraq. - Sapa-AP