Men carry the coffin of a police
recruit, who was killed during Sunday's suicide bomb attack, at a funeral
at the Imam Hussein shrine in the holy city of Kerbala, 110 km (70 miles)
south of Baghdad, November 13, 2006. The inscription on the coffin reads
"There's only one God, Prophet Mohammed is the messenger of God".
Gunmen dressed as police
commandos kidnapped up to 150 staff and visitors in a lightning raid on
a Baghdad research institute Tuesday, the largest mass abduction since the start of the
U.S. occupation. Three of those taken were later released.
Iraq's higher education minister immediately ordered all universities closed
until security improvements are made, saying he was "not ready to see more
professors get killed.
"I have only one choice which is to suspend classes at universities. We have
no other choice," Abed Theyab told parliament. Theyab said he had repeatedly
petitioned for more university security from the ministries of Defense and
Interior, who command the police, but had received none.
Alaa Makki, head of the parliament's education committee, interrupted the
body's session to say that between 100 and 150 people, both Shiites and Sunnis,
had been abducted in the 9:30 a.m. raid.
He urged the prime minister and the defense and interior ministers to respond
rapidly, calling the abductions a "national catastrophe."
The mass kidnapping is the largest since about 50 people taken from the
offices of a private security company in March. Their fate remains unknown.
"It was quick operation. It took about 10 to 15 minutes,"
Theyab said. "It was a four-story building and the gunmen went to the four stories." He
said the gunmen had at least 20 vehicles, but possibly many more.
Iraqis grieve over a coffin of their relative during a
funeral in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south
of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Nov. 13, 2006. The funeral was of three
brothers, Ahmed, Jassim and Maythan Abbas, killed in a suicide bomb attack
at the recruiting center the previous day. [AP]
Makki said the gunmen had a list of names of those to be taken and claimed to
be on a mission from the government's anti-corruption body to check on security
ahead of a planned visit by the U.S. ambassador. Those kidnapped included the
institute's deputy general directors, employees, and visitors, he said.
Police and witnesses said the gunmen, who numbered about 80, had closed off
streets surrounding the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research,
Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate in the downtown Karradah
district. The institute is responsible for granting scholarships to Iraqi
professors and students wishing to study abroad.
The facility appeared to be an easy target for the kidnappers, whose motives
remain unknown. Police spokesman Maj. Mahir Hamad said four guards put up no
resistance and were unharmed.
Witnesses including a visiting female professor said the gunmen forced men
and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and loaded them onto pickup
trucks. She said the gunmen, some masked, wore blue camouflage uniforms of the
type worn by police commandos.
Shiite militias and other illegal groups are known to wear stolen or fake
police and army uniforms.
Brig. Abdul-Karim Khallaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, told The
Associated Press the three people released were found unharmed along eastern
Baghdad's Palestine Street. Khallaf said the police chief of the Karradah
neighborhood where the kidnappings occurred has been placed under investigation
along with some of his officers.
The abductions come amid a series of killings and other attacks on Iraqi
academics that is prompting thousands of professors and researchers to flee to
neighboring countries to escape the country's lawlessness and sectarian hatred.
Recent weeks have seen a university dean and prominent Sunni geologist
murdered, bringing the death toll among educators to at least 155 since the war
began. The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high
public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a
climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.
Ali al-Adib, a Shiite lawmaker, demanded that U.S. troops be held responsible
for the security lapse and said there was "a political goal behind this grave
A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq said American troops were ready to help
in the hunt for the kidnappers.
"If the reports are true, than this is a terrible crime and we will support
all efforts by the Iraqi government to bring these criminals to justice," Lt.
Col. Christopher Garver said.
The abductions came just hours after a U.S. assault on the northwest Baghdad
Shiite district of Shula that drew strong condemnation from al-Adib and other
Shiite members of parliament. Shula is a stronghold of radical anti-American
Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, sponsor of one of Iraq's most powerful and feared
militias, the Mahdi Army.
It also came a day after Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command,
confronted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over how Iraqi forces would halt the