The rise in the number of kidnappings poses a greater threat to Baghdad’s security than the Islamic State group, the Iraqi capital’s top security official said on Tuesday.
Dozens of kidnappings are believed to take place every week in Baghdad, the Arab world’s second largest capital.
While some abductions are a direct result of the sectarian tension that has grown since IS jihadists took over part of Iraq this year, others are the work of extortion gangs that have prospered in the confusion.
In most recent cases, victims were released upon payment of a ransom, according to police.
The loss in June to IS of swathes of territory, including the key cities of Mosul and Tikrit, led the top religious leader of Iraq’s Shiite majority to call on civilians to join the security forces.
His appeal led to mass enrolment in Shiite militias that have both played a key role in stemming the jihadist advance but been accused of criminal and sectarian abuses in the process.
He said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had ordered the creation of a special anti-kidnapping unit within the Baghdad Operations Command.
The crisis cell has been active for a few days and Shammari said seven kidnapping rings had already been busted and several victims released.
In one recent high-profile case, members of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shiite militia abducted a relative of the deputy prime minister, according to senior security sources.
Many kidnappings are also carried out by criminals posing as members of the security forces or of one of the myriad militia groups operating in Baghdad.