London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Despite the mass kidnapping of education employees in Iraq, university studies in the country will not stop Iraq’s science and higher education minister said on Tuesday.
“No decision has been taken to stop studies and, God willing, we will not be forced to take such a decision. Studies are continuing in all Iraqi universities,” Higher Education Minister ‘Abd Dhiab Al-‘Ajili, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
About 70 of the people abducted in a brazen raid on the offices of the Higher Education Ministry have been released, officials said Wednesday, but it was unclear how many remained captive.
Dozens of people were taken Tuesday from the central Baghdad office that handles academic grants and exchanges, with the men handcuffed and loaded aboard about 20 pickup trucks by gunmen dressed in the uniforms of Interior Ministry commandos.
“Most of the hostages were freed, but that is not enough for us. We will chase those who did this ugly criminal act,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, as he met professors and students at Baghdad University to show of support for the country’s educational institutions. “We regret what happened yesterday. The government’s reaction was strong.”
Government ministries have given wildly varying figures on the number of kidnap victims in the assault, with reports ranging from a high of about 150 to a low of 40 to 50.
Elsewhere, a series of attacks killed at least 20 Iraqis, including two journalists, and wounded 47 on Wednesday.
The U.S. military also announced the combat deaths of four troops — a soldier and three Marines — in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar Province, raising the number of American war dead to 2,856. The four, who all died Tuesday, were a soldier assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and the three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7.
Wednesday’s deadliest attack involved a car bomb that killed at least 11 people and wounded at least 32 near a gasoline station in central Baghdad’s Bab Shargi area, police Lt. Bilal Ali said.
The Higher Education Ministry said the confusion over the number of kidnap victims arose out of the difficulties in determining just how many employees, guards and visitors were in the building during the assault.
Police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said “about 15 to 20 persons are still held by the kidnappers. The search for them is under way, and we hope that we will find them in suspected areas in eastern Baghdad.”