Old Tactic Returns as Gunmen Seize 13 Iraqis from Bus

By Joshua Partlow and Saad Sarhan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

BAGHDAD, Dec. 24 -- Gunmen stopped a minibus driving north of Baghdad on Monday and abducted 13 Iraqi civilians inside, Iraqi police reported. The mass kidnapping was a renewed tactic that has grown increasingly rare as violence has ebbed in Iraq.

The gunmen had set up a checkpoint Monday morning along a road north of Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, before seizing the Shiite civilians in the bus, according to Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem al-Rubaie, a police officer in Diyala. He said the passengers were traveling from the town of Khalis to Baqubah and were probably taken somewhere in the province.

Rubaie said he thought the Sunni insurgent group Al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for kidnapping the group, which included women and children.

In previous periods of rampant sectarian violence, gunmen routinely seized dozens of people at a time at checkpoints or from office buildings or factories. But mass abductions have grown sporadic in recent months.

In a separate development Monday south of Baghdad, hundreds of people in Babil province staged a protest over the appointment of a new police chief for Hilla, the provincial capital. The demonstrators think the new chief, Maj. Gen. Fadhil Radam Kadim al-Sultani, is affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a leading Shiite political party, whose militia, the Badr Organization, is involved in a power struggle in southern Iraq with another pervasive militia, the Mahdi Army.

Protesters set up tents along the road to the governor's office in Hilla, chanted denunciations of Sultani and held signs calling for appointment of an independent police chief, said Capt. Muthanna Ahmed, a spokesman for the Babil police.

Officials close to Moqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army, called Sultani's appointment illegal.

Sultani, who served as Hilla police chief earlier in the war, denied in a statement that he was affiliated with any political party. He was chosen by the Interior Ministry and the provincial council, following the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qais al-Mamouri, this month, Ahmed said. U.S. military officials had praised Mamouri for resisting corruption by political and sectarian pressures.

Talking to reporters Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker cited Mamouri's death by an armor-piercing roadside bomb known as an explosively formed projectile as evidence that Iranian-made weapons are still being used to deadly effect in Iraq.

Also Monday, a car bomb exploded near the Green Zone in central Baghdad, killing two people and wounding at least five, according to Iraqi police. The bomb detonated near the office of the governor of Baghdad province.

Special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.

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