Sectarian abductions in Iraq

From AP, Nov. 2:

BAGHDAD – On a dangerous road north of Baghdad, Sunni militants took advantage of a traffic jam to carry off the latest in the series of sectarian crimes yesterday – abducting some 40 Shia based on a check of their identity cards.

Armed men set up a checkpoint on the road near Tarmiyah and stopped traffic as unarmed men went from car to car demanding to see drivers’ identification cards, witnesses said. Those who could be identified as Shia were hauled from their cars and taken away.

A witness, who asked to be identified only by the pseudonym Abu Omar, said the men allowed him and other Sunni travelers to proceed.

A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said U.S. forces had been disarming roadside bombs near Tarmiyah at the time, but received no reports of abductions.

Throughout the country at least 23 people were killed yesterday – and the U.S. military said that two more American soldiers had died in October, making the total for the month 105, one of the worst months since the start of the war.

In Baghdad, the deep frustration over the failure to tackle the daily kidnappings, killings and political violence nearly boiled over into a fistfight in the parliament. Speaker Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, was holding a news conference to condemn other Sunni lawmakers for failing to show up for a vote to ratify a religious edict intended to end sectarian clashes when he spotted a rival lawmaker in the audience.

“You did not attend [parliament] because of your corrupt political affiliation,” al-Mashhadani screamed at Abdel-Karim al-Samarie, a member of the main Sunni voting bloc. “You are dishonest and a dog,” he added – a deep insult in Iraq and other Arab societies.

Al-Samarie responded by calling al-Mashhadani a false patriot.

The speaker, who belongs to a rival Sunni group – The National Dialogue Council – lunged at al-Samarie and tried to punch him but was held back by bodyguards.

Elsewhere in the capital, a roadside bomb exploded on Iraq’s most heavily guarded Tigris River bridge, seriously wounding Judge Naeim al-Equeli, a Shia who was the top jurist for courts in western Baghdad. Two people in his convoy were killed and two others were wounded.

Also from AP, Nov. 2:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen abducted a top Iraqi basketball official and a blind athletic coach, both Sunnis, on Wednesday, a day after U.S. and Iraqi forces lifted a blockade on Baghdad’s Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City.

The attack took place at a youth club on relatively prosperous Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad near the Sadr City district, which is controlled by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The militia has been linked to scores of abductions and torture killings of Sunnis.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered military roadblocks dismantled Tuesday around the sprawling slum of 2.5 million. Al-Maliki acted under pressure from al-Sadr, whose political faction is a key part of the governing coalition.

Athletes and sports officials have increasingly become targets of threats, abductions and assassination attempts, with an Iraqi international soccer referee seized last month as he left the soccer association’s offices. The abductors reportedly demanded a $200,000 ransom.

Wednesday’s attack on the coaches began when men in four SUVs drove up to the youth club, said police Lt. Ali Mohsin. They seized basketball federation chief Khalid Nejim, who also was a coach for the national basketball team, and Issam Khalef, who coached blind athletes.

While Nejim, 50, resisted the abductors, Khalef, who is blind and also serves as the captain for his goalball team, went with his captors quietly, said Qahtan al-Namei, chief of Iraq’s Paralympics Federation.

Twelve people were in the club at the time – the coaches, seven blind players, a guard who was quickly disarmed, an assistant and a driver, al-Namei said.

He said it appeared only the coaches were taken because they were Sunnis, while the rest were Shiites. He said the abductors, who carried automatic weapons and wore no masks, had not demanded a ransom or otherwise contacted the federation.

“There is a distinct possibility that this was simply an act of violence targeting Iraqi sports,” al-Namei said.

Despite the abductions, al-Namei said the team was determined to participate in a tournament in Malaysia for athletes with disabilities this month.

Goalball is played by blind or visually impaired athletes using a ball that has bells inside that is thrown toward goals on a court.

Throughout the country at least 23 people were killed Wednesday. And north of Baghdad, which has become the main battlefield in Iraq’s relentless sectarian struggle, police searched for 40 Shiites seized Tuesday on a dangerous stretch of road in a region with a mixed Shiite-Sunni population.

A witness said the Shiites were taken away by men near the town of Tarmiyah, where cars were slowed by backed-up traffic.

Unarmed men, he said, went along the row of vehicles demanding to see identification cards as armed men stood nearby, just out of sight of U.S. soldiers who were disarming a roadside bomb.

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