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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Iraqi PM doubts any Iranian link with three missing Americans

World | Thu Jan 21, 2016 3:21pm EST Related: World, Iraq Iran-linked groups focus of Baghdad kidnapping probe: U.S. sources WASHINGTON | By Mark Hosenball Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shi'ite militia fighters from the south of Iraq run during a mission to take control of Sulaiman Pek village from Islamist State militants, in the northwest of Tikrit city September 1, 2014. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal Asaib Ahl al-Haq Shi'ite militia fighters from the south of Iraq run during a mission to take control of Sulaiman Pek village from Islamist State militants, in the northwest of Tikrit city September 1, 2014. Reuters/Youssef Boudlal U.S. intelligence agencies investigating the kidnapping of three Americans in Baghdad, Iraq last week are focusing their probe on three militant Islamic groups closely affiliated with Iran, U.S. government sources said on Thursday. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization are the principle focus of the investigation into the armed kidnapping of the three Americans in the Dora neighborhood, south of Baghdad, the sources said. The three men are employed by a still-unidentified small company doing work for General Dynamics under a larger contract with the U.S. Army. Related Coverage › Iraqi PM doubts any Iranian link with three missing Americans The U.S. government still does not know if any of the three groups kidnapped the three men. While the three groups have close ties to Iran, sources said the United States does not believe Iran was involved in the kidnapping, or that the three are being held in Iran. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Badr Organization are Shi'ite militia groups that are part of Iraq's Popular Mobilization Front, a group closely tied to Iran, according to the Counter Terrorism Project, a New York-based advocacy group. The Iraqi government has struggled to rein in the Shi'ite militias, many of which fought the U.S. military following the 2003 invasion. Shi'ite militias have previously been accused of killing and abducting American nationals. 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. However, the United States imposed sanctions on 11 companies and individuals on Sunday for supplying Iran's ballistic missile program. (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; writing by David Greising; Editing by Andrew Hay) ============================================= Thu Jan 21, 2016 3:21pm EST Related: World, Iraq, Davos Iraqi PM doubts any Iranian link with three missing Americans DAVOS | By David Brunnstrom left 2 of 2 right Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrives for a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2016. Reuters/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool left 1 of 2 right left 2 of 2 right left 1 of 2 right Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday that three Americans who disappeared in Iraq last week "just went missing," and he very much doubted any Iranian involvement. Asked by a pool reporter at the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos if he thought there was an Iranian link to their disappearance, Abadi said: "I don't know about that. I doubt it very much. We don't know if they have been kidnapped ... They just went missing." Iraqi intelligence and U.S. government sources said on Tuesday the three U.S. citizens were kidnapped and were being held by an Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia. They are the first Americans to be abducted in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. The U.S. sources said Washington had no reason to believe Tehran was involved in the kidnapping and did not believe the trio were being held in Iran, which borders Iraq. Unknown gunmen seized the three on Friday from a private residence in the southeastern Dora district of Baghdad, Iraqi officials say. Kerry said the United States was working closely with Iraq on the issue. "They are really investigating this. He (Abadi) is looking at it. He was not able to shed light on the who, where or what and they are still trying to get all of that piece together." Kerry said he had also raised the issue in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minster Javad Zarif on Wednesday. "I asked him for whatever help, if Iran knew any way to provide help, or if there was some way they could have impact in getting the right outcome," he said. "He said he would take it under advisement and try to do what they can. He didn’t have any immediate knowledge whatsoever about it." Some analysts believe the kidnappings were meant to embarrass and weaken Abadi, who is trying to balance Iraq's relations with rival powers Iran and the United States. Hostility between Tehran and Washington has eased with the lifting of crippling economic sanctions against Iran in return for compliance with a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions and a prisoner swap. The three men are employed by a small company that is doing work for General Dynamics Corp GD.N, under a larger contract with the U.S. Army, according to a source familiar with the matter. (Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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