Violence, Confusion Reign In Baghdad

Smoke rises from the site of a car bomb in Baghdad, Nov. 15, 2006. AFP/Getty Images/Sabah Arar

About 70 of the people abducted in a brazen raid on the offices of the Higher Education Ministry have been released, officials said Wednesday, but it was unclear how many remained captive.

Dozens of people were taken Tuesday from the central Baghdad office that handles academic grants and exchanges, with the men handcuffed and loaded aboard about 20 pickup trucks by gunmen dressed in the uniforms of Interior Ministry commandos.

"Most of the hostages were freed, but that is not enough for us. We will chase those who did this ugly criminal act," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, as he met professors and students at Baghdad University to show of support for the country's educational institutions. "We regret what happened yesterday. The government's reaction was strong."

Government ministries have given wildly varying figures on the number of kidnap victims in the assault, with reports ranging from a high of about 150 to a low of 40 to 50.

Ministry spokesman Basil al-Khatib said 40 employees were released Tuesday and another 32 were freed Wednesday.

Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab said he had suspended participation in the government until all the kidnap victims were released.

Some Iraqis said the kidnappers were dressed in new digitally marked uniforms for the Interior Ministry forces that are made in the United States. But U.S. Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, which took control of security operations in Baghdad on Wednesday from the 4th Infantry Division, denied that.

"We don't know what uniforms they had on. ... We are virtually certain they are not those uniforms. Those are hard to get hold of, as they should be. We do not believe they were those new digital uniforms," Fil said.

Such uniforms are designed to overcome the persistent problem in Iraq of militia and death squad members using stolen or counterfeit Interior Ministry uniforms to gain access to commit crimes and killings.

In other developments:

  • A car bomb exploded in a parking lot in central Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 11 people and wounding 32, police said. The car exploded near a gasoline station in the Bab Shargi neighborhood, police Lt. Bilal Ali said. A series of car bombs exploded around Iraq Tuesday, killing and wounding scores.

  • In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen intercepted the car of journalist Fadia Mohammed al-Taie killing her and her driver, police said. Al-Taie worked as a reporter for the independent weekly newspaper al-Massar. In the city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, another Iraqi journalist, Luma al-Karkhi, who worked for the independent weekly al-Dustor was shot dead while on her way to work. With the slayings of al-Taie and al-Karkhi's, at least 91 journalists have been killed in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count based on statistics kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

  • One U.S. soldier and three Marines were killed during combat in Anbar Province, the insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, the military said in a statement Wednesday. The soldier assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division and the three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7 died Tuesday from wounds sustained in "enemy action while operating in Anbar Province," the statement said. So far this month, 38 American service members have been killed or died in Iraq.

  • In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, gunmen shot dead a police officer in a drive-by shooting as he was heading to work, said police Capt. Farhad Talabani. In the eastern province of Diyala gunmen stormed the house of the governor's secretary, Abbas al-Tamimi, late Tuesday killing his brother, police said. Al-Tamimi was not at home when the shooting occurred.

  • The head of the U.S. Central Command could face tough questioning about Iraq in his appearance before Congress Wednesday. Democrats want to press General John Abizaid on starting to pull U.S. troops from Iraq. He'll appear before both the Senate and House Armed Services Committee. Senator Carl Levin, who will chair the Senate panel next year, says he would "hope and expect" that Abizaid will indicate that he realizes there's a need for a change of course.
    • Robb Todd

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