Mass kidnap at Baghdad Ministry

BAGHDAD – Gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms snatched up to 100 staff and visitors from a ministry building in Baghdad, sparking a huge manhunt by a government struggling to control increasingly audacious sectarian militias.

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 Shi’ite militia stronghold.

Women were left behind after having their mobile phones confiscated. One witness said police guards stood by as the gunmen separated minority Sunnis from Shi’ites by checking names on identity documents, although officials and other witnesses said it appeared men from both sects were taken away.

“Some of the men put up a struggle and begged the militants to leave them alone but one of them said ‘Don’t worry, if you’ve done nothing wrong we’ll let you go’,” a local shopkeeper said after the men were put into 40 vehicles in under half an hour.

Some were later freed but up to 50 hostages were still unaccounted for, the government said, renewing assurances that its new, U.S.-trained security forces can bring order. The White House will be watching anxiously as it reviews strategy under mounting domestic pressure to bring U.S. troops home. Washington has been pressing Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to crack down on militias notionally loyal to his allies but Maliki says he needs more time. Many of Saddam Hussein’s fellow Sunnis, and U.S. commanders, complain the Iraqi police is heavily infiltrated by Shi’ite militias. “The Ministry of Interior is taking every measure and moving toward some Baghdad areas where they suspect the hostages are being held,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said, declining to confirm some men were freed in Sadr City, the stronghold of the Mehdi Army militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.