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Iraqi, US Forces Search for Kidnap Victims


Iraqi and U.S. forces raided a Shiite slum in Baghdad Saturday, looking for men abducted earlier this week in a mass kidnapping at a government ministry. Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, coalition forces continued their search for five western contractors who were abducted when their convoy was attacked Thursday.

The U.S. military says American and Iraqi forces raided a Shiite militia stronghold in the Sadr City section of Baghdad.

The troops were searching for victims of Tuesday's mass kidnapping of dozens of men from the Higher Education Ministry. Some of the hostages had already been released, but an unknown number remain captive, their fates unknown. The military did not say if Saturday's raid yielded any hostages, but at least three suspected terrorists were arrested.

The kidnapping has widened the rift within Iraq's already troubled government. The Higher Education Ministry is Sunni-run, while the kidnappers are believed to be members of the Shiite Mehdi militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sunni Arab groups blame Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shiite-led interior ministry for failing to rein in Shiite militias with alleged links to the country's security forces.

Tensions were further escalated Friday, when the interior ministry issued a warrant for the arrest of Sheikh Harith al-Dari, the head of the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars. The hard-line cleric is charged with inciting violence and terrorism.

Sunni groups held a news conference Saturday denouncing the warrant, saying it was intended to distract attention from the education ministry kidnapping.

Meanwhile, near the southern city of Basra, coalition and Iraqi forces continued their search for an Austrian and four American contractors who were abducted Thursday when their convoy was attacked.

An official with the Crescent Security Group in Kuwait, the men's employer, told VOA that all five remain missing and are still believed to be alive.

In neighboring Turkey, Prime Minister Maliki wrapped up a two-day visit to discuss his country's security situation and Turkey's fight against Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq.

Mr. Maliki said Turkish officials assured him that their government would not interfere in Iraq's internal problems, and said Ankara is ready to cooperate with the Iraqi government on all fronts, especially to maintain Iraq's unity and restore peace.