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Three Americans seized in Iraq have been released: US
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 16, 2016

UN says abducted employee was murdered in Iraq
Baghdad (AFP) Feb 16, 2016 - A United Nations employee abducted north of Baghdad last year was murdered, the UN's Iraq mission said on Tuesday, condemning the killing and calling on authorities to investigate.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq "condemns in the strongest terms the killing of one of its staff members, who was abducted in April 2015 and whose death was verified only on Monday", it said in a statement.

"The Mission calls on the Iraqi authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice."

Amer al-Kaissy, the UN's representative in Diyala province, was seized in the city of Baquba on April 26, 2015, and "is suspected to have been abducted by militias active in the area", it said.

Iraq turned to paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias to help counter an offensive by the Islamic State jihadist group that overran swathes of territory in 2014.

While militia forces have played a major role in combatting the jihadists, they have also carried out abuses including killings, kidnappings and destruction of property.

UN Iraq representative Jan Kubis said the mission had made repeated unsuccessful appeals to the authorities following Kaissy's abduction.

"For more than nine months we have sought the intervention of the government on the local and national levels to ensure his safe return to his family," Kubis said in the statement.

"We have expressed serious concern about the lack of progress in identifying his whereabouts and achieving his safe release. I am deeply disappointed that our efforts and appeals went unanswered," he said.

The UN suffered one of the worst attacks in its history in Iraq in 2003 when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged truck at the Canal Hotel in the Iraqi capital.

The blast smashed a corner of the building, killing Brazilian UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others.

Three Americans who were kidnapped in the Iraqi capital Baghdad last month have been released, the State Department said Tuesday.

"We sincerely appreciate the assistance provided by the government of Iraq, and its whole-of-government effort to bring about the safe release of these individuals," deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Toner specifically thanked Iraq's security forces, defense ministry and intelligence service for their role in securing the Americans' release.

The identities and employment of the victims was not made public.

"A force belonging to the intelligence service was able to free the three kidnapped Americans," a senior Iraqi intelligence officer told AFP, without providing details on which group had held them.

Kidnappers have recently seized Qataris and Turks, but it has been years since Americans were abducted, and Iraqis have suffered the most from kidnappers seeking ransoms or to settle scores.

A spokesman for the security command responsible for the capital said last month the Americans had been kidnapped from a "suspicious apartment" in Baghdad.

An Iraqi police colonel told AFP on condition of anonymity that the Americans had been brought to the apartment for "drinking and women."

Brothels and alcohol shops have been repeatedly targeted by powerful Shiite militia groups that are playing a major role in combating the Islamic State jihadist group, which has overrun large parts of Iraq.

These groups, which fall under an umbrella organization known as the Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization units, have played a key role in the fight against IS fighters.

But they and their affiliates have also been accused of abuses including summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property.

The US is leading a coalition of countries that have bombed thousands of IS targets in Iraq and Syria and which are providing training to Baghdad's forces.

IS also has ample motive to target Americans, but while it is able to carry out bombings in Baghdad, it does not have a major presence in the city.

Dozens of foreign nationals have been kidnapped in two incidents during the past few months.

In December, gunmen kidnapped more than two dozen Qataris who had come to southern Iraq to hunt. Their whereabouts are still unknown, as are the identities of their kidnappers.

It had been years since an American was kidnapped in Iraq.

Issa T. Salomi, an American of Iraqi origin, went missing in Baghdad in January 2010 and was later freed by Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a powerful Shiite group that is now one of the leading forces in the Hashed al-Shaabi.

Iraq military helicopter crashes, killing nine
Baghdad (AFP) Feb 16, 2016 - An Iraqi military helicopter crashed south of Baghdad on Tuesday killing nine people due to a "technical problem", a security spokesman said.

"A military helicopter of the Mi-17 type crashed because of a technical problem," killing its crew of nine, two of them officers, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told AFP.

The Soviet-designed helicopter, which is intended for transport but can also be equipped with weapons, was en route from Iraq's main southern city of Basra to the city of Kut, southeast of Baghdad, Rasool said.

A Kut police captain said the crash occurred in an area east of the city.

Iraq has lost multiple helicopters to accidents and ground fire in recent years, while others have been damaged.

In October 2014, militants shot down a Bell 407 north of Baghdad, killing two crew, five days after an Mi-35 was shot down in the same area, while jihadists destroyed another helicopter on the ground earlier in the year.

An overloaded helicopter crashed after delivering aid to people besieged by the Islamic State jihadist group on Mount Sinjar in August 2014, killing its pilot and injuring passengers, including a member of parliament.

Lieutenant General Hassan Karim Khudayr was killed when a military helicopter crashed north of Baghdad before IS launched a sweeping offensive in June 2014, while Iraq also lost an Mi-17 to a sandstorm in July 2010, a crash that killed five.

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