BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – Parliament extended Iraq’s state of emergency Monday as gunmen seized 14 employees from computer stores in downtown Baghdad in the second mass kidnapping in as many days.
Seven cars pulled up to the shops in front of Baghdad’s Technical University, and gunmen wearing military-style uniforms surrounded the buildings, police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said. The attackers then forced the employees outside and into sport utility vehicles at gunpoint, he said.
On Sunday evening, 24 workers at a food factory in Baghdad were seized by gunmen who shot and wounded two workers who refused to climb into a refrigerated truck with their fellow captives. Seven bodies found late Sunday in the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Dora were identified Monday as people who had been abducted in the raid on the food factory, Police Lt. Maitham Abdul Razzaq said.
Similar mass kidnappings in the past have been blamed on either Sunni extremists or Shiite death squads, who sort the captives by their sect and kill their targets.
Lawmakers from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni political group, issued a statement accusing militias in the latest kidnappings, and urged the government to take “serious and urgent steps to disband these criminal organizations.”
In other sectarian violence, dozens of bodies were found in and around Baghdad. At least 18 people also were killed in other attacks, including a noontime bomb blast in Baghdad’s downtown Al-Nasir Square that killed four and wounded 13.
The U.S. command said three American Marines died in western Anbar province Saturday — two in combat and the third in a vehicle accident. With their deaths, at least 73 American service members died in Iraq in September — making it the second deadliest month this year, after April when at least 76 died.
One British soldier was killed and another wounded in a mortar attack on the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, Light Infantry Battle Group in the southern city of Basra, British military spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge said.
In the attack Sunday on the Shat Al-Arab hotel in Basra, 15 mortar shells were fired at the compound and three landed inside, he said.
One of the rounds that missed the compound landed on a nearby home, killing a 7-year-old boy and his 3-year-old sister and wounding a third child, Basra police said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi politicians expressed concern over a plan by Syria to move border guards from its frontier with Iraq to help patrol its border with Lebanon — a step that could further open the doors for insurgents to move from Syria to Iraq.
“The Syrian move will make the terrorists’ entry to Iraq easier,” said Abdul Karim al-Inazi, a Shiite lawmaker with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party and a former minister of state for national security.
“The Syrian government should do its best to control the borders with Iraq,” he told The Associated Press, calling for the Iraqi government to also deploy more troops on the border.
Syria has long been under pressure to do more to stop insurgents slipping across its long desert border with Iraq, and Damascus has insisted it is doing all it can. Now Syria is facing U.N. requests that it also strengthen its guard on its Lebanese border to prevent weapons from going to Hezbollah guerrillas.
Al-Maliki’s government has struggled to rein in sectarian violence, which U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Sunday has become deadlier than the Sunni-led insurgency that broke out after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Parliament approved another month’s extension of the state of emergency, in place since November 2004. The measure allows for a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when necessary. It applies everywhere except the northern Kurdish autonomous zone.
“This extension of the state of emergency is needed because we are still in a big confrontation with terrorism,” al-Inazi told the lawmakers. “Terrorists are planning to break into crucial areas. We have information proving that.”
“These terrorist groups, which consist of 50 to 100 gunmen, are gathering in a camp-like areas in Baghdad’s outskirts and Anbar,” he said, without elaborating.
But the measure was opposed by some major Sunni political groups, saying it gave the country’s Shiite-dominated security forces too much power.
“We ask the government for assurances to guarantee the rights and liberties of individuals, and that we (parliament) acknowledge that security forces contain corrupted elements who misuse the law,” said Saleem Abdullah, a lawmaker with the Accordance Front.
From Sunday morning to Monday morning, 50 bodies were found in Baghdad alone — the apparent victims of Shiite or Sunni death squads, Mahmoud said.
Two more bodies were found later Monday in eastern Baghdad, police said. They had been shot, their arms and legs bound, and showed signs of torture.
The headless bodies of seven people found Sunday in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, were turned in to the Kut morgue, said a spokesman, Hadi al-Itabi.