Like everyone else, I guessed the who and why within five minutes of hearing about it. But I’m still surprised they’d pull something like this in a ministry run by a member of SCIRI, their archrivals for Shiite domination. Either SCIRI’s going to respond somehow or else they were in on it too, which isn’t entirely impossible given that they have their own personnel in Basra and will benefit from having the British put on notice that killing militia leaders is apt to make some of your citizens disappear.
Iraq’s most prominent Shia militia has emerged as the chief suspect in the kidnappings of five British nationals in Iraq.
Negotiations with the Mahdi Army are already under way after one of several spokesmen for the armed force under the command of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr claimed responsibility for the kidnappings at the finance ministry in Baghdad…
Canon Andrew White, an Anglican clergyman in Baghdad, shares a compound with employees of the GardaWorld security firm, four of whom were snatched along with a computer expert they were protecting.
He said today that he had been in contact with the Mahdi Army and suspected the kidnap was carried out in revenge for the killing last week of a leading figure from the militia group in a joint Iraqi-British operation in the southern Shia city of Basra…
The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, said he suspected that Mahdi militiamen were the most likely candidates behind the kidnappings and were probably assisted by local police. Dozens of gunmen wearing paramilitary police uniforms kidnapped the men on Tuesday.
The spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, Abdul-Kareem Khalaf, insists that no Iraqi police were involved. You might also remember Khalaf as the center of the storm in the “Jamil Hussein doesn’t exist” fiasco. Ahem.
Well, so much for hopes that Sadr would “embrace the political process.” Exit question: How does Blair — or rather Gordon Brown — answer?
Update: A Sadr spokesman issues the pro forma denial.