Sunni politician seized in Iraq released by gunmen

July 26, 2014 - 1:05 PM
ADDITION Mideast Iraq

ADDS NAME OF SPEAKER AT PODIUM - Falah al-Qaisi, directly at microphones, and other Baghdad provincial council members, speak to the media in Baghdad, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Gunmen traveling in 10 black SUVs seized Riyadh al-Adhdah, the head of the Baghdad Provincial Council and a senior Sunni politician who had previously been jailed on terrorism charges from his home in Baghdad on Saturday, police officers said. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Gunmen in Iraq seized and later released a prominent Sunni politician, officials said Saturday, as confusion remained over who abducted the lawmaker.

Riyadh al-Adhadah, head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, returned to his home a day after gunmen abducted him and four of his bodyguards, said Ghalib al-Zamili, a member of the council. The bodyguards also were released, according to a police officer who declined to be named because he is not authorized to brief journalists.

It was not immediately clear if al-Adhdah was arrested by security forces or abducted. In 2012 al-Adhdah, a medical doctor and member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was imprisoned for eight months on terrorism charges. He has maintained his innocence.

The incident comes at a time of mounting sectarian tensions, with Sunni militants having seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq and Shiite militias mobilized to help the beleaguered armed forces fight back. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is looking to secure a third four-year term despite widespread calls to step aside over the crisis.

Earlier Saturday, Al-Maliki discussed al-Adhdah's disappearance with Salim al-Jabouri, the Sunni speaker of parliament. The speaker called the disappearance a "problem" without elaborating. Sunnis long have complained of being unfairly targeted by security forces, and their discontent with al-Maliki's rule is seen as a central cause of the country's unrest.

Al-Maliki's security forces have targeted prominent Sunni politicians in the past, alleging links to terrorism. Shortly after the last U.S. troops withdrew in 2011, security forces tried to arrest Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges, forcing him to eventually flee to exile in Turkey. Al-Hashemi, who was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to death, has denied the allegations.

Sunni government officials also have been targeted by Islamic extremists and other Sunni militants, who view them as traitors.

At a news conference Saturday, Baghdad Provincial Council member Falah al-Qaisi called upon the government to "shoulder its security responsibility," and open an investigation "in order to reveal the circumstances of the incident and ensure (al-Adhdah's) personal safety." Al-Qaisi did not provide details on who might have seized al-Adhdah.

The provincial councils are the highest of the four tiers of local government in Iraq established following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled former President Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, police said the dead bodies of four men in their 30s were discovered in an eastern suburb in Baghdad. In the town of Taji, north of Baghdad, police say the bodies of five men, including two in military uniform, were found. In all nine cases, the victims' bodies were bullet-ridden and handcuffed, they said.

The police officers, who declined to be named as they weren't authorized to speak to journalists, could not provide information on the identities of the victims or the motive surrounding their deaths.

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Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.