Iraqi security forces guard the entrance to a sports complex being built by a Turkish construction company, in the Shiite district of Sadr City. —AP
Iraqi security forces guard the entrance to a sports complex being built by a Turkish construction company, in the Shiite district of Sadr City. —AP

BAGHDAD: Masked men in military uniforms kidnapped 18 Turkish employees of an Ankara-based construction company in Baghdad early yesterday, bundling them into several SUVs and speeding away, Iraqi and Turkish officials said. The 18 are employed by Nurol Insaat, a Turkish construction company contracted to build a sports complex in the sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City. The kidnappers stormed the construction site, where the workers were sleeping in caravans, breaking down doors and disarming the guards before taking the workers away. The Iraqi officials said an Iraqi national was kidnapped along with the Turks. Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tanju Bilgic said those kidnapped included 14 workers, three engineers and one accountant. He said the kidnappers specifically targeted Turkish nationals, picking them out from the rest and leaving behind workers from other countries. There were no reports of violence.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus confirmed the kidnapping and said Ankara was in close contact with authorities in Iraq. “The Iraqi authorities for the time being do not have information on how the incident occurred or who captured them,” he told reporters. In Baghdad, Interior Ministry spokesman Saad Maan told The Associated Press that authorities are investigating the incident and that a contingent of security forces has been tasked with tracking down the kidnappers. Neither the identity nor the motives of the kidnappers were immediately known. Associated Press footage of the site taken hours after the kidnapping shows the sports complex to be almost complete. A sign outside says it includes a 30,000-seat soccer stadium, a track and field facility and a 50-room hotel.

Airstrikes against IS
Turkey recently began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria and allowing US warplanes to use bases in southeastern Turkey to strike the Sunni extremist group. It launched a simultaneous air campaign in northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish militant group. IS militants seized 49 diplomatic staff and family members from the Turkish consulate in Mosul when they captured the northern Iraqi city in June 2014. The group held them for three months before releasing them unharmed.

Turkish officials have suggested – but never formally confirmed – that the release was secured in exchange for IS prisoners held in Turkey. Turkey held back from contributing to the US-led coalition against the IS group as it sought to free the 46 Turks and three Iraqi hostages. The style and scale of yesterday’s kidnapping harkened back to the sectarian violence in Baghdad in 2006 and 2007, when Sunni and Shiite militants kidnapped followers of the other sect. In most cases, the bodies of those kidnapped were found a day or two later with marks of torture and a bullet wound to the head. Baghdad has been torn by violence for over a decade now, with roadside bombs, suicide attacks and assassinations occurring almost daily.

While kidnapping for ransom has continued, abductions on the scale seen yesterday have been almost unheard of in the past few years. Elsewhere yesterday, roadside bombs ripped through busy commercial streets in different parts of Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 29, according to police and hospital officials. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

In Anbar province, a spokesman for the local government, Eid Ayash, said about 200 inhabitants of a remote western town have been released four days after IS militants detained them for taking part in a demonstration against the killing of a local resident. Ayash said some of those released in the town of Rutbah bore signs of torture, but he gave no further details. In their crackdown following the Saturday demonstration, IS militants tied about a hundred protesters to streetlight poles for 24 hours before they took them away. —AP