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Workers kidnapped in Iraq

Kai Ryssdal Jun 21, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The main topic on Capitol Hill today, though, was Iraq. The Senate isdebating a Democratic proposal to set a date for final withdrawal. But over in Iraq today, it was more violence. At least a dozen people were killed in separate incidents across the country. And at a factory near Baghdad, a bizarre group kidnapping. Borzou Daragahi is the Baghdad bureau chief for theLos Angeles Times.

Borzou, what exactly happened today?

BORZOU DARAGAHI: From what we understand, there was a group of people, about 80 employees working at a factory that made housing parts. You know, window frames and some industrial containers and so on. And as they were leaving work around 2:30, 3, they were getting onto these buses that weregoing to take them back to the city, and all of a sudden a bunch of gunmen in other buses came in, circled them, took everyone out and drove off with them.

RYSSDAL: Certainly there have been mass abductions before, but is this the first time there’s been concerted effort to target factory workers, industrial workers?

DARAGAHI: I think there have been a few incidents where people who worked in religiously mixed parts of the country have been abducted or killed. But I think this is probably the biggest. I think that there’s probably also a heavy sectarian layer here. This was a group of employees that were mostlyShiite being transported back to poor Shiite sections of Baghdad. This is an area known to be predominantly Sunni but also mixed. So what could have happened, and I’m just speculating here, is that people were resentful that the Shiites were getting these government jobs as opposed to Sunnis.

RYSSDAL: Do you think there’s some economic target here, some industrial motive by these insurgents?

DARAGAHI: Well, I think that there’s probably one of two economic motives. One, possibly, it’s a shakedown. You know, you kidnap the employees, you demand that the company pay some money to get them free. But I also think there’s a real–I mean, at the heart of this whole dispute, it’s kind of economic. You know, you have the Sunni-Arab minority that sort of dominated the government. Most of the jobs were government jobs. And all the best jobs went to people who were not just Sunni, but very close to the ruling click. And now you have a complete revolution with that regard. And you have the Shiites controlling many of these ministries. The Shiites handing out the jobs to their buddies, their cronies, their loyalists. And that creates a lot of resentment.

RYSSDAL: You know, the debate back here in Congress today, Borzou, was about a pullout date, setting a date certain to get troops out of there. Obviously, a functioning Iraqi economy is critical to that being able to happen. What do attacks like this do to an economy that’s already badly shaken?

DARAGAHI: I think it definitely–it saps the strength of the economy. People are terrified to go to work. People are afraid of admitting what they do, even if they do have a job. People try to pretend that they’re poor even when they’re rich. So it’s definitely not a situation that’s conducive to growth.

RYSSDAL: Borzou Daragahi is Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Baghdad. Borzou, thanks for being with us.

DARAGAHI: Thank you.

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