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Abductees... Company Suspected Of Assisting Insurgency in Iraq

By Kirk Semple
THE NEW YORK TIMES


BAGHDAD, IRAQ

The Sunni-owned security company where about 50 employees were kidnapped Wednesday was under investigation for allegedly collaborating with the anti-government insurgency, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday.

The official, Maj. Gen. Mehdi Sabih Hashem al-Garawi, commander of a paramilitary police unit, said in an interview that his investigators had been examining the company. Many of its employees were members of Saddam Hussein’s security forces, said a company employee who evaded the abductors.

The company was also operating without a license, which was canceled last year, according to ministry documents.

Witnesses to the kidnapping said the attackers were driving vehicles and wearing uniforms resembling those used by paramilitary units of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police.

But no one has claimed responsibility for the assault, and the whereabouts of the workers remains a mystery.

The brother of an administrator for the company, who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety, said his family had been told by a government official that the employees were being held at a government detention center in Baghdad.

But Garawi and several other Interior Ministry officials denied that their agency had had any role in the operation, and a spokesman for the Defense Ministry said the military was not involved. Several officials said the Interior Ministry had opened an investigation, though the minister himself, Bayan Jabr, made no formal statement and, according to an aide, was unavailable to comment.

American military officials, while confirming the kidnapping, seemed mystified. “We don’t know who did that,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a spokesman for the American military, said during a news conference in Baghdad. “We have no indication from the Iraqi authorities that they know.”

The incident, and the Iraqis’ muddy response, reflected the often bewildering opacity of the government, particularly the Interior Ministry, and the murky culture of public safety in Iraq, where the line between legitimate police work and criminal behavior often blurs.