Most of the dozens of hostages seized at a Higher Education Ministry building on Tuesday have been freed, the government said yesterday, adding that two remained captive.
An official at the prime minister's media office said around 40 hostages had been in the hands of the kidnappers by Tuesday evening and "most of them have been released."
He did not give exact numbers or say how they were freed.
There were different reports on exactly how many men were seized from the Higher Education Ministry building in central Baghdad in a brazen daylight raid by gunmen in police uniforms. Around 20 were released within hours on Tuesday.
A spokesman for the Higher Education Ministry reiterated yesterday his minister's estimate on Tuesday that at least 100 had been taken, including male employees and visitors.
"They beat us and insulted us and after that they freed us," the spokesman quoted the assistant manager of the building, Yaha Alwan, as saying after he was released on Tuesday afternoon.
Amid new suspicions of police complicity in the latest and biggest mass kidnapping, the interior minister hauled in police chiefs to explain how dozens of gunmen swept into the Higher Education Ministry annex, rounded up those inside, and drove them off in broad daylight toward a Shiite militia stronghold.
Al Furat, a TV station controlled by a major Shiite political group, said yesterday that 25 hostages were still missing.
Some of those released earlier in the day said they were driven to Sadr City, a Shiite militia stronghold in eastern Baghdad, Higher Education Minister Abd Dhiab said.
Washington has been pressing Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to crack down on militias notionally loyal to his allies but Maliki says he needs more time.
Many of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's fellow Sunnis, and US commanders, complain the Iraqi police is heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias.
The White House, determined to build up Iraq's security forces so it can hand over responsibility for security, will be watching the outcome anxiously as it reviews strategy under mounting domestic pressure to bring US troops home.
"The minister himself is questioning all the officers in charge of that sector," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said on Tuesday of the busy commercial Karrada district where the kidnap took place.
The higher education minister noted the kidnapping followed dozens of killings of academics and told parliament he feared for the future of Iraq's beleaguered universities.