Gunmen in army uniforms seize Sunni official in Baghdad: police, security officials

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 26, 2014 9:38 AM

By Raheem Salman

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunmen in army uniforms have seized a senior local official and prominent member of a Sunni Islamist party from his Baghdad home, police and security officials said on Saturday.

It was not clear if Riyadh al-Adhdah, who heads Baghdad's Provincial Council and belongs to the Sunni Islamist Iraqi Islamic Party, had been kidnapped by militiamen, who often wear military outfits, or detained by the authorities.

A police official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that men in army uniforms had taken Adhdah.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's military spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the incident.

Security in Baghdad has been breaking down as sectarian tensions deepen. The lightning advance of Sunni militants through northern Iraq last month has raised fears that Baghdad will be violently carved up along sectarian lines.

Adhdah had previously faced terrorism charges but was not convicted due to a lack of evidence. Sunni politicians have long accused Maliki's security forces of targeting them on false terrorism-related charges in a witch-hunt.

Tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites are increasingly at the forefront of the violence in Iraq, threatening to fragment the country.

Sunni insurgents militants led by the hardline Islamic State seized vast swathes of territory in the north last month, posing the biggest challenge to Maliki's Shi'ite-led government since U.S. forces withdrew in 2011.

Critics say Maliki, a Shi'ite, is a divisive figure whose alienation of Sunnis has fueled sectarian hatred and played into the hands of insurgents.

The head of the Provincial Council's security committee told Reuters that Adhdah was seized along with four of his bodyguards from his home in the mostly Sunni district of Adhamiya by men in army uniforms driving SUVs.

Provincial councils are the top tier of local government in a system set up after the U.S. invasion in 2003. Its members are elected.

Speaker of parliament Salim al-Jabouri, who is also a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said at a press conference after a meeting with Maliki on Saturday that the prime minister had a "big role" to play in Adhdah's case.

Maliki, who spoke to reporters after Jabouri, did not mention the incident.

(Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)