Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 1 News List

US and Iraqi forces raid Shiite militia stronghold


US and Iraqi forces raided a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad yesterday, searching for victims of a mass kidnapping from a government ministry, the US military said.

Iraqi soldiers backed up by US helicopters, swept through the Sadr City section of the capital after intelligence indicated that an armed group was holding some of the scores of Iraqis who were snatched from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad on Tuesday, the military said.

"No individuals were killed, injured or detained," the military said when asked if coalition forces had found any hostages during the raid, which was called to rescue captives and disrupt kidnapping and insurgent cells in the area.

Police First Lieutenant Ziyad Tariq said the raid on two sections of Sadr City began at 2:30am and that three Iraqi civilians were wounded.

Tuesday's mass kidnapping was widely believed to have been the work of the Mahdi Army, the heavily armed militia of anti-US Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

It raised questions about Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's commitment to comply with a US demand to wipe out the Shiite militias of his prime political backers: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and al-Sadr's Sadrist Movement.

Sadr City has long been a Shiite militia stronghold.

On Thursday, Iraqi Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab, a Sunni Arab, called the Interior Ministry "a farce" for failing to prevent the mass kidnapping and claimed that only about half of the 150 hostages had been released by their Shiite abductors. Most, if not all, of the hostages who were not released were Sunnis, the ministry's spokesman said.

Theyab said the kidnappers had taken their hostages from the Higher Education Ministry building in downtown Baghdad in SUVs and pickup trucks that were seen heading toward Sadr City.

Later, a Sunni who said he was among those abducted and released claimed his arm was broken by the kidnappers. He said he saw them kill at least three hostages after taking them to empty houses in Sadr City.

The abduction was seen as retaliation for the recent kidnapping of 50 Shiites south of Baghdad.

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