Iraq's Olympic Chief Abducted

An Iraqi army soldier walks past anti-US graffitis as he patrols the town of Baquba 15 July 2006. Parliament voted today to extend Iraq's state of emergency for another 30 days and President Jalal Talabani warned against the perils of civil war, as fresh clashes erupted in the capital. AFP PHOTO/ALI YUSSEF (Photo credit should read ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images) AFP/Getty Images

Gunmen kidnapped the head of Iraq's Olympic committee and more than a dozen employees Saturday after storming a meeting of sports officials just days after the coach of Iraq's national wrestling team was killed.

The gunmen, wearing camouflaged Iraqi police uniforms, used at least ten vehicles for the kidnapping, police officials said. They added that the gunmen entered the room where a meeting was taking place and asked everyone to stand facing the wall.

The guards of the building were not taken, but the kidnappers blindfolded and handcuffed all people present in the room, police officials said.

Mahmoud said Ahmed al-Hijiya, president of the committee, was taken around 1:30 p.m. along with other employees as they attended a conference in Karradah, a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad.

Others seized included the deputy head of the Olympic committee, Ammar Jabbar al-Saadi; the chairman of the Taekwondo Federation, Jamal Abdul-Karim; and the chief of the Boxing Federation, Union Bashar Mustafa.

The director of sports medicine, Dr. Faleh Francis, was originally reported to be among those kidnapped, but state-run television later said he was not part of the group.

It's unclear how many people were kidnapped in all, but several estimates all put the number of people taken around dozens.

Security guards outside the meeting did not interfere because they thought the kidnappers were legitimate law enforcement, police said. Two guards were killed, one while trying to flee the building; the other was shot dead and dumped on a street in Karradah.

In other developments:

  • A bomb struck a Sunni mosque in Baghdad after Friday prayers, killing 14 people and wounding five, while mortars barraged a Shiite mosque north of the capital. The bombing, which came despite a driving ban aimed at preventing such attacks, occurred about 2 p.m. as worshippers were leaving after religious services in northern Baghdad, police Lt. Mohammed Khayoun said, adding that the bomb was planted near the door of the mosque.

  • President Jalal Talabani has called for establishment of a national front to prevent a sectarian civil war. Talabani's statement was issued late Friday to mark the 1958 coup that overthrew the Iraqi monarchy and led to years of turmoil until the Baath Party took control of the country in 1968. The party held power until it was removed by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003. "The country is facing dangers and heading toward sectarian strife," Talabani said.

  • British and Australian forces handed over security responsibility for relatively peaceful Muthanna province to Iraqi forces on Thursday in the first such transfer of an entire province.

  • The White House announced Thursday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be visiting Washington on July 25 to meet with President Bush. The two first met on June 13, when Mr. Bush made a surprise trip to Baghdad.

  • A U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter crashed Thursday during a combat patrol southwest of Baghdad, but both pilots survived, the U.S. military said. The statement did not say what caused the crash nor give a precise location. However, an Iraqi army official in the area said the helicopter was shot down in the village of Grakoul, located near the town of Youssifiyah about eight miles southwest of Baghdad.

  • A car bomb struck a police patrol in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, killing four people, including a child, and wounding seven Thursday. A bomb also exploded near street sweepers in the southeastern New Baghdad neighborhood in the capital, killing two people and wounding one.
    The kidnappings of Iraq's Olympic officials comes a day after Iraq's national wrestling team pulled out of a tournament in the United Arab Emirates when its coach was killed in Baghdad.

    The Sunni coach, Mohammed Karim Abid Sahib, was seized with one of his wrestlers as they left the sports center to buy some sweets in the northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where the team was preparing for the tournament.

    He was shot to death while trying to escape; the other wrestler got away, according to police and wrestling officials.

    Elsewhere in Baghdad on Saturday, clashes broke out between Iraqi soldiers and gunmen in several areas of the city, leaving at least three people dead and 11 others wounded, police said.

    Seven people were injured in a mortar attack near Haifa Street in downtown Baghdad, just blocks from the Green Zone which houses U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government. All were hospitalized, police 1st. Lt. Muhammad Khayoun said.

    Similar clashes also broke out blocks away in the capitol, injuring four and killing two civilians. U.S. troops rushed to seal the area after the attacks, said Iraqi Army Maj. Salman Abdul-Wahid.

    The area along Haifa Street has seen heavy violence in recent weeks, which prompted Iraqi leaders to declare a state of emergency in Baghdad after erratic violence erupted there nearly a month ago.

    Also Saturday, Iraq's parliament voted to extend the state of emergency for 30 days, a measure that has been in place for almost two years.

    The violence comes as the conflict between Israel and Lebanon escalates, which has been condemned by Iraqi leaders who are fearful ramifications could be felt throughout the region.

    Thousands of Iraqis also demonstrated in the Shiite district of Sadr City in Baghdad and the southeastern cities of Kut and Amarah, praising the leaders of Hezbollah and denouncing Israel and the United States.
    • Joel Roberts

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