25 Kidnapping Victims Released In Iraq

Relatives of Nadhim Naim (27) grieve while carrying his coffin in Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, Iraq, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2006. Naim, who worked as a guard to the Iraqi Education minister, was assassinated Wednesday along with five more persons near al-Talaea Sq. in north Baghdad. AP

Gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped shopkeepers and bystanders Thursday from a major commercial area in central Baghdad in what was apparently an attack against Sunnis, the second such mass abduction in a month. At least 25 of the hostages were released after several hours and left in a northern neighborhood of Baghdad, police said.

The attackers drove up to the busy Sanak area in about 10 sport utility vehicles and began rounding up people from the stores and the streets Thursday morning, according to police and witnesses.

There was confusion over the number of people seized, with some policemen and witnesses offering figures between 21 and 70. One policeman, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, later said at 25 to 29 of the hostages had been freed but declined to say how many remained missing.

But the Shiite television station Al-Forat also said 29 captives were freed. The Sunni clerical group, the Association of Muslims Scholars, said more than 30 people had been separated according to their IDs and taken away by kidnappers wearing government uniforms and driving governmental vehicles.

The association placed responsibility on U.S. forces and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

Nobody claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell on Shiite militias, which are believed to have infiltrated police forces and have killed hundreds in sectarian violence, personal vendettas and kidnappings for ransom.

In other developments:

  • On the three-year anniversary of Saddam Hussein's capture, Iraqis feel less safe now than they did while under his regime, reports CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston. A survey by an Iraqi research center finds 95 percent of the respondents believe security is worse now.

  • Calling it a fascinating discussion, President Bush spent the better part of two hours Wednesday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, including soon-to be Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. But in the search for a new strategy on Iraq, he renewed his commitment to the current one. "If we lose our nerve, if we're not steadfast in our determination to help the Iraqi government succeed, we will be handing Iraq over to an enemy that would do us harm."

  • Sen. John McCain said Thursday that America should to deploy 15,000 to 30,000 more troops to Iraq to control its sectarian violence, and give moderate Iraqi politicians the stability they need to take the country in the right direction. McCain made the remarks to reporters in Baghdad, where he and five other members of Congress were meeting with U.S. and Iraqi officials. The other members of the delegation are Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Thune of South Dakota, and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois.

  • Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said he wants to grow his half-million-member Army beyond the 30,000 troops already added in recent years. Though he didn't give an exact number, he said it would take significant time and commitment by the nation, noting some 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers could be added per year.

  • The Army dropped the death penalty Wednesday as a possible sentence for a soldier charged with rape and murder in the deaths of 14-year-old girl and three others in Iraq. Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, 22, now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted, said Maj. Don Lobeda, an attorney with the 101st Airborne Division.

    Elsewhere in Baghdad, a suicide car bomber slammed into an Iraqi army check point, killing a soldier and a civilian and wounding nine other people, police said.

    Police in the capital also found 45 bullet-riddled bodies of men who had been bound and blindfolded, while 17 bodies showing signs of torture — including five that were dumped in a flour mill in the town of Wahda — also turned up in the mostly Shiite Wasit province southeast of Baghdad.

    Three other bodies, including one that was beheaded, were found elsewhere in a volatile area southwest of the capital.

    The violence underscores the difficulties the Iraqi government faces after it unveiled a plan to assume responsibility for security in Baghdad, allowing U.S. forces to move to the periphery of the capital, by early next year.
    • Sean Alfano

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