BAGHDAD — U.S. and Iraqi authorities are searching for three Americans reported missing from a neighborhood in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, officials said Sunday. At least one report said the Americans had been kidnapped by gunmen, but it could not immediately be confirmed.
“We are aware of reports that American citizens are missing in Iraq,” said John Kirby, a State Department spokesman. “The safety and security of American citizens overseas is our highest priority. We are working with the full cooperation of the Iraqi authorities to locate and recover the individuals. Due to privacy considerations, I have nothing further.”
A senior Iraqi security official told CNN that the Americans, apparently contractors, had gone missing two days ago. A spokesman for Baghdad’s Joint Operations Command said Sunday that the three missing persons were Iraqis who had become U.S. citizens. That information also could not be confirmed.
A report from the pan-Arab satellite channel al-Arabiya said “militias” had abducted the group in the area of Dora in the city’s south. Other reports said they had ben seized in an apartment.
Both Sunni and Shiite militants are present in the Iraqi capital, but Shiite militias operate as powerful auxiliary forces. Many of those militias are backed by Iran.
Some analysts who closely follow Iran and its regional proxies suggested Sunday that the abduction of American citizens in Baghdad, if true, may have been a projection of Iranian power, in particular by hard-liners who opposed the prisoner deal with the United States over the weekend. Iran released four Iranian Americans with dual citizenship who were being held in Iranian prisons; the United States offered clemency to seven Iranians charged or imprisoned for sanctions violations. American authorities also dismissed charges against 14 Iranians outside the United States.
Some local media reports said that Shiite militias had indeed abducted the Americans, but that news was not confirmed.
Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who is an expert on Shiite armed groups, posted an online link to an analysis of Iranian proxy forces he wrote about a year ago. In that paper, for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Smyth wrote that armed groups loyal to Iran could soon change their focus from fighting jihadists such as the Islamic State to “possibly disrupting U.S. or regional allies’ interests in the Middle East and globally.”
Ryan reported from Washington. Mustafa Salim contributed to this report from Baghdad.