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Baghdad Kidnappings Create Political Crisis


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.



I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the UN convenes a special meeting on Sudan's Darfur region. Secretary General Kofi Annan calls in diplomats from Africa, the U.S., the Arab League and elsewhere.

BRAND: We begin today in Baghdad, where there's confusion over the fate of dozens of hostages taken in Tuesday's raid on Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education.

What started as a mass kidnapping has become a political crisis inside Iraq's government. Louise Roug is reporting from Baghdad for The Los Angeles Times and she joins me now by phone.

And Louise, what are you hearing now about the status of the hostages?


Ms. LOUISE ROUG (Reporter, The Los Angeles Times): Well, it's still unclear. The Shia national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, has said that only 50 people were kidnapped and that no one has been harmed, but that everybody has been released.

Counter to that is the higher education minister Abed Ujaili, a Sunni -has said that 70 people have been released but that as many as 80 others are still being held. A spokesman from his ministry is also saying that people have been tortured and he fears that, among some bodies discovered yesterday, may be victims of the kidnapping.

BRAND: Now, how could there be such divergent opinions over how many people were kidnapped, if they have been released, how many have been released, if they had been tortured or not - why such differing opinions?

Ms. ROUG: First of all, even the authorities are relying on witness testimony, and that varied quite widely. Also, in terms of bodies taken into the morgue, for example, Sunnis can no longer go to the morgue and reclaim loved ones because it's said to have become too dangerous. It's part of the Ministry of Health complex, which is run by a Shia radical faction.

So in terms of finding out how many may have been killed, that's extremely difficult and dangerous. And the kidnapping, itself, has been hijacked by political factions who are using this for their own purposes.

BRAND: What do you mean by that?

Ms. ROUG: Well, you have Sunni Arabs in the government already calling for a walkout, calling for a boycott of the political proceedings here. And they're saying, you know, this kidnapping just shows how they're being neglected and marginalized and persecuted by the Shia-dominated security forces.

You have then, Shias in the government, saying that this is a crisis that's been created by them and in fact it's a storm in a teacup and that everybody has been released.

BRAND: And the hostages came from the Ministry of Education. That is largely a Sunni ministry?

Ms. ROUG: It is headed by a Sunni, although witnesses said that there were also Shia kidnap victims.

One of the things that's interesting is that it is a Sunni-led ministry but it's located - these offices were located in a Shia part of town in central Baghdad. And in fact, this area, Karrada, is very close to the Green Zone. It's just a stone's throw away from the Green Zone, actually.

BRAND: Politically, where could this lead? Could this lead to a full-fledged crisis for the government?

Ms. ROUG: The government is already in a sort of the throes of a crisis and this has only deepened that crisis. Prime Minister Nouri Maliki who's Shia, and who's currently in Turkey on a state visit, is apparently convening Cabinet next week to try and resolve this crisis. But you know, on all sides - among the Sunni politicians, among the Shia politicians, among more secular parties - everybody's saying, Well, this is a serious crisis. And then last weekend we saw that, and the issue of militias?

You know, the government itself is in jeopardy.

BRAND: Louise Roug is a reporter for The Los Angeles Times in Baghdad.

Thank you.

Ms. ROUG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.