BAGHDAD (Reuters) â€” Gunmen pulled the deputy electricity minister from his car in a busy Baghdad street on Tuesday, briefly kidnapping him and 19 bodyguards in an attack that underlined the vulnerability of Iraq’s new government.
Raad Harith was released with seven of his bodyguards 12 hours after he was abducted by men wearing camouflage uniforms, who stopped his convoy in eastern Baghdad, interior ministry sources said. No more details were available.
It was the second abduction of a politician in three days in Baghdad as Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s new national unity government struggles to show Iraqis that it is coming to grips with the relentless insurgent and sectarian violence.
In the United States, President George W. Bush, trying to tap into independence day patriotism to revive domestic support for an unpopular war, vowed that US troops would not leave Iraq until their mission was complete.
“I’m not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 [US] troops who’ve died in Iraq to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done,” he told troops in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab Zarqawi in a US air strike last month had not improved security.
“In terms of the level of violence, it has not had any impact at this point. As you know, the level of violence is still quite high,” he told the BBC in an interview.
A bomb in a crowded market in the Shiite district of Sadr City killed more than 60 on Saturday, the worst such attack in three months, despite a security crackdown in the capital.
Hosting a US independence day celebration alongside Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Khalilzad said Americans would stand by Iraq but that Iraqis should “stand on their own feet as soon as possible”.
Maliki, on a tour of Sunni-ruled Gulf states to get political and economic support for his new government, said he had won promises from Gulf Arab leaders to crack down harder on sources of funding for the Sunni insurgency.
“We agreed with our brothers to confront terrorism and dry up its sources by closing fake companies that fund terrorism in Iraq,” Maliki told reporters in the United Arab Emirates’ capital Abu Dhabi, before heading to Kuwait.
Gunmen in camouflage uniforms have been linked to many shootings and kidnappings of Sunnis in Baghdad. Leaders of the once-dominant Sunni minority have accused Shiite militias of infiltrating the security forces to carry out killings.
The kidnapping of Harith came three days after gunmen kidnapped Sunni legislator Taiseer Najah Mashhadani and seven of her bodyguards in a northern district bordering Sadr City.
Sunni lawmakers have boycotted the last two sessions of parliament, refusing to return until she is released. Some Sunni leaders have blamed the kidnapping on Shiite militias.
The communal bloodshed has increasingly overshadowed the three-year-old Sunni insurgency, and Maliki has sought to tackle both in a national reconciliation plan unveiled last week.
He has offered to speak to rebels who do not have blood on their hands, but not to Saddam Hussein loyalists or Al Qaeda militants, whom he has vowed to crush.
He said in Abu Dhabi he would meet Iraqi insurgent groups on his return to Baghdad. Maliki’s aides have previously said seven Sunni insurgent groups had contacted him seeking dialogue.
Khalilzad confirmed that talks between some rebel groups and both the Iraqi and US authorities had already taken place.
“We want to know the groups that are reaching out … to develop confidence that one is dealing with people who can really do something and have the ability to affect the situation,” he said.
In Amman, meanwhile, Government Spokesperson Nasser Judeh said Maliki was expected to visit Jordan on Thursday for talks with senior officials. Judeh gave no details.