An Iran-backed Shi’ite militia was behind the kidnapping of three Americans who disappeared in Baghdad last week, Reuters reports, citing two Iraqi intelligence and two U.S. government sources.
Reuters quotes unnamed Iraqi officials as saying that “unknown gunmen seized the three on Friday from a private residence in the southeastern Dora district of Baghdad.”
“They are the first Americans to be abducted in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011,” notes the report, adding, “The U.S. sources said Washington had no reason to believe Tehran was involved in the kidnapping and did not believe the trio were being held in Iran, which borders Iraq.”
According to an anonymous source familiar with the matter, the three U.S. citizens are reportedly employed by a small company that is doing work for General Dynamics Corp, under a larger contract with the U.S. military.
“They were abducted because they are Americans, not for personal or financial reasons,” one of the Iraqi sources in Baghdad told Reuters.
“The Iraqi government has struggled to rein in the Shi’ite militias, many of which fought the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion and have previously been accused of killing and abducting American nationals,” declares the report.
Hisham al-Hashemi, a Baghdad-based analyst who advises the government, reportedly said the kidnappings were aimed at embarrassing and weakening the Shi’ite Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The PM is attempting to balance Iraq’s relations with rival powers the United States and Iran.
“The militias are resentful of the success of the army in Ramadi which was achieved with the support of the U.S.-led coalition and without their involvement,” said the analyst.
Out of fear of further exasperating sectarian tensions among Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq, the Shiite militias were left out of the battle against ISIS in Ramadi.
“Baghdad touted the military’s advance there last month, with backing from coalition airstrikes, as evidence of a resurgent army after it collapsed in 2014,” reports Reuters.
Sunni members of the Iraqi parliament on Tuesday called for the dismantling of Shi’ite militias, whom they accuse for sectarian attacks against Sunnis.
“The attacks [in Muqdadiya] were mounted after an Islamic State (ISIS) attack targeted Shiite militiamen there last week in a bomb attack that killed 23,” reports Rudaw.
On Sunday, the State Department said it was collaborating with Iraqi authorities to find the Americans reported missing, without conceding that they had been kidnapped.
“The picture is becoming a little bit more clear in terms of what might have happened,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby, without elaborating further, when asked about the kidnapping at a news briefing on Tuesday.
Kirby refused to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry had reached out to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the kidnapping.