Gunmen Take 50 Hostages In Baghdad

A hostage over a map and flag of Iraq
Gunmen dressed as Iraqi soldiers and driving police cars stormed the offices of a private security company in Baghdad and kidnapped 50 employees, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports.

The attackers hit the al-Rawafid Security Company, a privately owned Iraqi business, at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday and forced the workers into seven vehicles, including several white SUV's, said Interior Ministry Maj. Felah Al-Mohammedawi.

The company is owned by a major Sunni Sheikh who is a member of the Iraqi Parliament, Dozier reports, and it provides security for Iraqi VIPs and the nation's cell phone system. Its employees include many former members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.

The attackers took 50 men – mostly Sunni Muslims and a few Shiite – from the company's small compound in eastern Baghdad. Some of the guards, a "tea boy," and an assistant manger were released shortly afterward, but there is no word on the others.

Dozier reports that the company's manager is hoping the kidnappers will ask for a ransom demand so the rest can be released.

In other recent developments:

  • The Iraqi parliament may soon hold its much-delayed first meeting. Iraq's Shiite vice president, who had withheld his signature from a presidential decree calling parliament into session, signed the executive order Wednesday to end a political deadlock, a Shiite factional leader told The Associated Press.
  • A "climate of extreme violence" exists in Iraq, according to the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights abuses. The report found an increase in killings by members of the American-backed government and security forces dominated by sectarian militias. The government's ability to control the situation "handicapped by insurgency and terrorism," the report said.
  • Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rejected suggestions Iraq is engulfed in a civil war but predicted there would be additional "bursts" of sectarian violence in the weeks ahead. Rumsfeld also claimed that Iranian Revolutionary Guard elements had infiltrated Iraq to cause trouble. Rumsfeld also asserted that media reports have exaggerated the violence in Iraq since an attack last month on a revered Shiite mosque touched off a wave of violent reprisals between sects.
  • One U.S. soldier was killed and four injured when their patrol was hit by a roadside bomb, the military said Wednesday. The attack targeting soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division happened Tuesday near Tal Afar, the military said.
  • Al-Jazeera television on Monday broadcast a 25-second, silent videotape showing three of four hostage Christian Peacemaker activists, and said that the men asked their governments and countries in the Persian Gulf to work for their release. Tom Fox, the only American among the four captives, was absent from the tape. The hostages disappeared on Nov. 26 and the previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigades had claimed responsibility.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said U.S.-led coalition forces and Iraq's authorities may be violating international law by arbitrarily detaining thousands of people, said a report released Tuesday. It studied the situation in Iraq over the last three months, said Iraq's prison system remains a major concern and lamented that an investigation into allegations of torture in Iraqi Interior Ministry jails had not yet been made public as promised.

    The kidnapping came at the end of another violent day in Iraq.

    At least 23 bodies, many of them hanged, were found dumped in other parts of Baghdad, while a string of explosions killed at least four people in the Iraqi capital, police said.

    An American military patrol investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle found 18 bodies late Tuesday in an abandoned minibus in west Baghdad, Iraqi police and U.S. forces said. The victims, all men, had been handcuffed, blindfolded and either hanged or shot to death, police Lt. Maitham Abdul-Razzaq said.

    At least two appeared to be foreign Arabs, he added.

    The bus containing the bodies was found on the road between Amariyah and Khadra, two mostly Sunni Muslim neighborhoods in one of Baghdad's most dangerous sections, Abdul-Razzaq said. Local officials assume it's another sectarian incident, but no one has been able to identify the bodies as Shiite or Sunni, Dozier also learned.

    The bodies were taken to Yarmouk Hospital, where Dr. Mohanad Jawad confirmed two of the victims had been shot to death and the rest hanged. Their deaths appeared recent, he said.

    In Wednesday's violence, a bomb hidden under a parked car near the University of Technology exploded as police from the interior minister's protection force were driving through central Baghdad, killing at least two people and injuring five, police Maj. Abbas Mohammed Salman said. The minister was not in the convoy, he said.

    Another bomb missed an American convoy on the northern outskirts of Baghdad and killed two Iraqi boys who were selling gasoline by the side of the road, police Capt. Qassim Hussein said. He estimated their ages at between 10 and 11.

    Elsewhere, police found the bodies of four men in an open field in Baladiyat, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhood in east Baghdad. The victims had been handcuffed and hanged, police Capt. Mahir Hamad Moussa said, noting the rope marks on their necks

    Another body, shot in the head, was found near a shop in the eastern Kamaliyah suburb, which has also suffered repeated attacks.

    The grisly finds follow a surge of sectarian violence unleashed by the Feb. 22 bombing of a famed Shiite shrine in the central city of Samarra and reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics. While sectarian killings have diminished in recent days, other attacks have increased, the Defense Ministry reported Tuesday.