Heavy explosions rattled Baghdad yesterday, with a roadside bomb killing at least nine passers-by and injuring six, police said.
The deadly blast targeted an Iraqi army patrol in Amariyah, a mostly Sunni neighborhood in west Baghdad, according to Interior Ministry Major Falah al-Mohammedawi.
At least four other large blasts were heard but police only had reports on one, a roadside bomb that was aimed at a police patrol in Jihad, another mostly Sunni western neighborhood. Three bystanders were hurt.
Meanwhile, Iraqi authorities yesterday said they were investigating the mysterious abduction of 33 employees from a local security firm as politicians bickered over who will head the next coalition government.
The employees, all Iraqi, were seized on Wednesday by men in military uniforms who raided the headquarters of the al-Rawafed security firm in Baghdad, security officials and local residents said.
The gunmen arrived aboard 10 white landcruisers, searched the premises and took away weapons and telephones before hustling employees into their cars and driving off, local residents said.
"As far as we're concerned, there were no interior ministry orders to arrest these men," the head of the police commandos, General Rasheed Flaih, said.
"It's very strange that so many security guards could have been abducted without any shots being fired," he added.
Fadel Jaber, head of the Action Group firm, responsible for al-Rawafed, said that "33 Iraqi employees involved in the management of the firm are missing."
"Six armed security guards were not taken," he said in a telephone interview from Amman, in Jordan. He declined to speak of "kidnapping", saying he hoped for "good news in the coming hours."
The incident took place at a time when the Iraqi government is seeking to reduce the number of security firms working in the country.
Thousands of Iraqis and foreign contractors work as private security guards in a country racked by violence, both political and criminal in nature.
The Jordanian-Iraqi security firm, which employs ex-officers of former president Saddam Hussein's army, was involved in protecting the Iraqna telephone company.
"We're looking at all possibilities," deputy interior minister Ali Ghaleb said. "We're investigating this at the highest level," he added.
The abduction came amid growing tension in the country where sectarian violence flared in the wake of the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine, which led to reprisals against the minority Sunni community.
US authorities are seeking to pressure Iraq's political factions to agree to form a government of national unity in an attempt to undermine the Sunni-backed insurgency.
But nearly three months after general elections, negotiations on forming a coalition government are still deadlocked over attempts by Sunnis and Kurds to prevent outgoing Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari from heading the next government.