BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen abducted a top Iraqi basketball official and a blind coach, both Sunnis, on Wednesday, a day after U.S. and Iraqi forces lifted a blockade of the Sadr City district, a Shiite militia stronghold.
The attack took place at a youth club on relatively prosperous Palestine Street in eastern Baghdad near the Sadr City district, which is controlled by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The militia has been linked to scores of abductions and torture killings of Sunnis.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered military roadblocks dismantled Tuesday around the sprawling slum of 2.5 million. Al-Maliki acted under pressure from al-Sadr.
Last month an Iraqi international soccer referee was seized as he left the soccer association’s offices. His kidnappers reportedly demanded a $200,000 ransom.
Wednesday’s attack on the coaches began when men in four SUVs drove up to the youth club, said police Lt. Ali Mohsin. They seized basketball federation chief Khalid Nejim, who also was a coach for the national team, and Issam Khalef.
Qahtan al-Namei, chief of Iraq’s Paralympics Federation, said it appeared only the coaches were taken because they were Sunnis. He said the kidnappers, who carried automatic weapons and wore no masks, had not demanded a ransom or contacted the federation.
“There is a distinct possibility that this was simply an act of violence targeting Iraqi sports,” al-Namei said.
Despite the abductions, al-Namei said the team was determined to participate in a tournament for disabled athletes in Malaysia this month.Throughout the country at least 23 people were killed Wednesday. And north of Baghdad, which has become a main battlefield in Iraq’s sectarian struggle, police searched for 40 Shiites seized Tuesday on a dangerous stretch of road in a region with a mixed Shiite-Sunni population.
The U.S. military reported the deaths of two service members on Tuesday in Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold.
A total of 105 American service members died in Iraq in October, the fourth-deadliest month since the Iraq war began in March 2003.
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