Sunni group claims kidnap of 18 Iraqis |

Sunni group claims kidnap of 18 Iraqis

AP PhotoAn Iraqi army soldier stands guard near a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, March 2, 2007. The Iraqi government imposes a day long vehicle ban in Baghdad on Fridays, in an effort to prevent attacks on worshippers.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — An al-Qaida-linked Sunni group said Friday that it kidnapped 18 government workers and soldiers in retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by members of the Shiite-dominated police force. Hours later, the government said the bodies of 14 security officers had been found.

The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni group linked to al-Qaida, posted a statement on the Internet earlier Friday saying 18 men were kidnapped in retaliation for the alleged rape. Photos accompanied the claim, showing up to 18 blindfolded men. Seven were wearing Iraqi military uniforms, and all had their hands tied behind their backs.

Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the 14 bodies were found Friday afternoon in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. He blamed al-Qaida for the killings and said Iraqi authorities would “chase those who assassinated these unarmed people.”

The group had threatened to kill the hostages within 24 hours if the Iraqi government did not hand over officers accused in the rape case, and release all Sunni women held in Iraqi prisons.

The claim surfaced on the Web early Friday, but it was unclear when the 24 hours began.

“This blessed operation is a response to crimes carried out by those infidels in their fight against the Sunnis,” the statement said. “The latest of the crimes committed by these traitors was to rape our sister in religion.”

In Baghdad, a pair of car bombs killed at least 11 people in separate attacks across the city. The bigger occurred at a used car lot near the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, killing 10 people, wounding 17 and setting several cars ablaze, police said.

The entire front of the bomb-rigged car was blown apart. Blood from the victims smeared the hoods of some surrounding cars.

The other blast was near a police patrol in southwest Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding two civilians, police reported.

Reports emerged of fighting earlier this week between al-Qaida and residents of the village of Amiriyat near Fallujah, 25 miles west of Baghdad. The area of Iraq’s western Anbar province has been a center for Sunni insurgents.

Khalaf said 80 al-Qaida members were killed and 50 captured there Wednesday.

Residents of the area, contacted by satellite phone, confirmed there had been fighting there but could not verify the casualty figure nor describe the extent of the clashes. The U.S. military could not confirm the report.

An American Marine was killed in combat Wednesday in the same province, the U.S. military announced Friday. The military also said two U.S. soldiers and an interpreter were killed Friday by a roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad as they were trying to clear a roadway of explosives.

The Web posting about the abductions, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed, said those kidnapped were all employees of the Interior Ministry, which is Shiite-led.

The group did not specify when the kidnapping took place, but Khalaf said they were abducted Thursday morning while heading home for leave. He said the men were heading to the Shiite town of Khalis, 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.

They were wearing civilian clothes at the time, since they were on leave, Khalaf said. Some of the men pictured in the photos posted online appeared to be wearing civilian clothes.

The joint U.S.-Iraq operations center in Diyala province, where the kidnappings took place, confirmed the abduction but put the number of hostages at 14.

“We work closely with the Iraqi police and Iraqi army to enforce security and prevent these events,” said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, spokesman for U.S. forces in northern Iraq. U.S. officials were investigating, he said.

The U.S. military also said Friday that eight suspected militants were killed a day earlier in a raid in Salman Pak, just southwest of Baghdad. Intelligence reports indicated al-Qaida in Iraq was operating in the area, the military said in a statement.

U.S. forces came under small arms and mortar fire, and killed three armed men moving toward them, the statement said. Twenty minutes later, troops were fired upon again and shot dead four suspects. Another man was killed in a vehicle nearby, the statement said.

Sniper rifles, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers were removed from the scene, it added.

Friday’s statement from the Islamic State of Iraq referred to the rape victim by her name, which identified her as Sunni.

However, officials of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s largest Sunni group, said the woman used a false name when making the allegation and that she is in fact a Shiite. The party’s human rights office had been looking into the case.

Names of the officers involved in the case were not released, and it was unknown whether they were Sunni or Shiite.

The woman told Arab television stations that she was detained in a Sunni area of west Baghdad on Feb. 18, taken to a police garrison and assaulted by three officers.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, announced an investigation Feb. 19 but cleared the officers the following day, raising outrage among Sunni politicians.

The Associated Press has chosen not to publish her name.

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