Three Americans who disappeared last week in Baghdad were kidnapped and are being held by an Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia, it has been reported.
The three US citizens – at least two of whom were military contractors – were not taken to Iran, and Tehran was not involved in their capture, Reuters said, citing unidentified US and Iraqi officials.
“They were abducted because they are Americans, not for personal or financial reasons,” said one Iraqi intelligence source in Baghdad.
Unknown gunmen seized the Americans last Friday from a private residence in the capital’s southeastern Dora district.
US media has named the three Americans as Amro Mohammed, an Egyptian-American, Wael al-Mahdawy, an Iraqi-American, and Russel Furat, an Iraqi-American woman. The Wall Street Journalsaid Mr Mohammed and Mr Mahdawy worked as military trainers for General Dynamics, a Virginia-based aerospace and defence firm. It is not known whether Ms Furat was also employed by the company.
Other reports have suggested that General Dynamics has a multi-million dollar deal to train Iraq’s counter-terrorism forces in the fight against Isis, and that the two men were working on that programme.
The trio were the first Americans to be kidnapped in Iraq in several years, an episode that has exposed the further weakening of Iraq’s security system since Isis began to seize large large parts of the country and neighbouring Syria in 2014.
Iraqi military and police mostly buckled in the face of the militants’ sudden expansion, allowing irregular military forces and tribal fighters to fill the gaping security vacuum.
The Iraqi government has struggled to rein in the Shi’ite militias, many of which fought the US military following the 2003 invasion and have previously been accused of killing and abducting American nationals.
The State Department said over the weekend it was working with Iraqi authorities to locate Americans reported missing, without confirming they had been kidnapped.
Hostility between Tehran and Washington has eased in recent months with the lifting of crippling economic sanctions against Iran in return for compliance with a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions and a recent prisoner swap.