|If the Brits had dealt with Iran the first time, the third time would not have happened (or the second).
Al-Sadr militia suspected of kidnapping Britons
By Our Foreign Staff
Last Updated: 2:15pm BST 30/05/2007
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Iraq's most prominent Shia militia has emerged as the chief suspect in the kidnappings of five British nationals in Iraq.
Iraqi police security check motorists close to the finance ministry's information section in Baghdad
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.
Hundreds of Iraqi and American troops raided Sadr City, Baghdad’s largest Shia neighbourhood, in an operation that ended early today. Residents said areas of Sadr City were sealed off and several arrests were made.
Iraqi forces have established a special battalion of soldiers and police officers to search for the kidnapped men. “We are conducting search operations near the site where the abduction took place,” said Brig Gen Qassim al Musawi, an Iraqi army spokesman.
“Maybe today or in the coming few days, we will find them with the help of secret intelligence.”
Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, said British officials were doing all they could to secure the "swift and safe release" of the Britons.
Mrs Beckett said it was a very distressing time for all those concerned, and that the Foreign Office was providing assistance to the abducted men's families.
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.
"We now see that there is very likely a connection between these two," he said.
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.
Mr Zebari told the BBC: "The location is of interest to everybody. It’s near Sadr City, which is a Shia-dominated area controlled mainly by... the Mahdi Army, who have been very active there." He described the raid as a "sophisticated operation".
"The number of people who were involved in the operation to seal off the building, to set roadblocks and to get into the building with such confidence must have some connections," he said.
"There must be some unholy, unruly militias working beyond the law in that area, with this connection with the local police, to be able kidnap these people."
Mr Zebari said the kidnappings highlighted the persistent problem of infiltration of Iraqi security forces by militias.
"It has been a known fact for some time that the interior ministry police, security units and forces are corrupt, are penetrated," he said.
"This issue is a very serious, challenging fact to the government itself."
The men have yet to be named and no demands have been made by the kidnappers, who could yet prove to be independent of the mainstream Shia militias.
It is feared that a renegade, criminal Shia group could sell on the men to another organisation such as al-Qa'eda.
In London, the Cobra committee of senior security officials is meeting again today to discuss the crisis in the Iraqi capital, where SAS soldiers are on standby to mount a rescue mission.
GardaWorld provides personal protection services from a compound in Baghdad's Green Zone.
The raid marks the first time that Westerners have been snatched from a government building in Iraq.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003. Almost a third have been executed by their captors, including the British contractor Ken Bigley and the humanitarian worker Margaret Hassan