BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) – U.S. and Iraqi forces raided a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad on Saturday, searching for dozens of men abducted from an Iraqi government office.
Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. helicopters swept through the Sadr City section of the capital after intelligence indicated that an armed group was holding the hostages, the U.S. military said.
The statement did not say whether any hostages were found. No casualties were reported among coalition forces, but Iraqi police said three Iraqi civilians were wounded.
On Tuesday gunmen dressed like Interior Ministry commandos abducted some 150 men from the central Baghdad office that handles academic grants and exchanges. The men were handcuffed and driven away about 20 pickup trucks. About half were released on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
The mass kidnapping was widely believed to have been the work of the Mahdi Army, the heavily armed militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The kidnapping has raised questions about Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s willingness to comply with a Bush administration demand to wipe out the Shiite militias of his prime political backers: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and al-Sadr’s Sadrist Movement.
Sadr City has long been a Shiite militia stronghold.
Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab, a Sunni Arab who has criticized the Interior Ministry for not preventing the kidnapping, and said the kidnappers were seen heading toward Sadr City after the raid.
A Sunni who says he was among the hostages freed claimed the kidnappers broke his arm. He said he saw them kill at least three hostages after taking them to empty houses in the Sadr City Shiite slum.
The mass abduction was seen as retaliation for a recent kidnapping of 50 Shiites south of Baghdad.