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Iraq Transition

Iraq official: Most hostages freed after mass kidnapping

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NEW: Most of those abducted are freed in Iraq, an Iraqi official told CNN
• As many as 150 men were kidnapped in highly organized raid
• Bombings in Baghdad also kill a dozen people
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Most of those kidnapped Tuesday from a Baghdad research institute have been freed, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told CNN.

It was unclear whether those released represented all of those abducted, because the ministry did not know how many were kidnapped, the official said.

No one was killed and no one was tortured, he said. Al-Iraqiya state television was also reporting most of the hostages had been released.

Earlier, as many as 80 gunmen clad in old and new Iraqi National Police uniforms kidnapped the people at the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research/Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate building in central Baghdad, according to Higher Education Minister Abed Dhiyab al-Ajili.

The Iraqi interior minister ordered the arrests and interrogations of several high-ranking police officers over their handling of security in the area.

The kidnappings took place just across the Tigris River from the highly fortified Green Zone.(Map)

The hostages included employees from different ranks, from managers to cleaning workers and normal citizens, al-Ajili said.

Initial estimates were that 100 to 150 people were abducted, but that figure later was scaled down.

Mohammed Ali, an aide to the higher education minister, said the total number of victims was less than 100.

Some of those abducted were freed earlier in the day Tuesday.

Al-Ajili said he was closing universities until security improves, saying he was "not ready to see more professors get killed."

"I have no choice but to stop the teaching in the universities in Baghdad," he said.

Al-Ajili said the kidnappers surrounded the four-story building along Nidhal Street with at least 20 vehicles, taking guards, employees and civilians captive.

According to al-Ajili, the gunmen separated the men from the women and locked the women in a room while they loaded the men into vehicles and escaped.

One witness, a Sunni Arab well known to a Reuters employee, said he saw the gunmen check identity cards and pick out Sunni employees, including a man "who was just delivering tea." (Watch other witnesses describe how the gunmen carried out the morning attack -- 1:35 Video)

"At the same time, I saw two police patrols watching, doing nothing," Reuters quoted the man as saying.

Al-Ajili said he sent a letter last week to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asking for better protection for universities and education buildings.

He said the defense and interior ministers had rejected earlier requests for 800 university guards.

The guard force at the directorate numbered about 20, he said, and there were a handful of weapons among them -- not enough to resist the abductors. ( Watch what the directorate looked like after more than 100 people were kidnapped -- 2:32 Video)

The United Nations and other authorities condemned the act.

Ashraf Qazi, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative in Iraq, called the action "a nefarious crime that could dangerously and negatively" affect "progress and development in Iraq, a country long known for its literary and scientific tradition."

Qazi urged Iraqi officials "to immediately and inexorably pursue those responsible, free the abductees and ensure the sanctity of higher education."

Bombers kill 14 in Baghdad; 40 bodies found

Three bombings Tuesday targeted public areas and left 14 people dead and dozens wounded, police told CNN.

The first blast took place at 1:30 p.m. in the central Baghdad section of Amin, killing 10 people and wounding 25 others near the busy Shurja market.

The second bombing occurred at 2 p.m. in eastern Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 10 others at a bus station.

The third attack was a car bomb, which exploded in Sadr City near shops, stores and restaurants, killing two people and wounding 25.

Forty bullet-riddled bodies also were found across Baghdad on Tuesday -- all believed to be victims of sectarian violence. Police could not immediately identify the victims.

Tuesday's violence came a day after a suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up inside a bus in northeastern Baghdad, killing 10 people and wounding 17 others, emergency police said. It was one of several deadly incidents Monday. (Full story)

Accounts differ on Ramadi dead

A U.S. military operation in Ramadi left 25 people dead Monday night, a hospital official told CNN, adding that U.S. tank fire destroyed several houses in the city's Dhubat district.

Some people were killed while trying to recover the dead and help the wounded, witnesses told CNN.

Neither the U.S. military nor the Iraqi Defense Ministry would acknowledge or deny the operation, which was said to have occurred around 8 p.m.

But the U.S. military did say that coalition troops killed 11 insurgents in Ramadi during several confrontations in the last 24 hours. It was unclear whether the incidents were the same as that reported by witnesses.

The U.S. military said five insurgents were killed while trying to set up a roadside bomb, and another four were killed after a roadside bombing attack on a coalition vehicle. The military said that the remaining two insurgents were killed while they were planting a roadside bomb.

Fierce fighting has persisted between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi troops for months in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province about 60 miles (100 kilometers) west of Baghdad. The volatile region is Sunni-dominated.

U.S. military engages Mehdi militia

The developments coincided with the deaths of six people during fighting late Monday between U.S. troops and members of the Shiite Mehdi militia in Baghdad, police in Baghdad told CNN.

The operations centered on the Shula neighborhood and involved a search for members of the militia, which is led by anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

As fighting erupted, the military deployed helicopters and the ensuing airstrikes killed six people and wounded 13 others, police said.

A member of al-Sadr's bloc in parliament, Baha al-Araji, condemned the U.S. military, demanding that lawmakers ask the Iraqi government why such an operation was carried out and that it be prevented from happening again. He said that 50 people were injured in the attacks.

It is not clear if the operation was related to the search for Spc. Ahmed K. Altaie, the Iraqi-American translator who was kidnapped in the Karrada area of Baghdad on October 23.

On Tuesday, Altaie's uncle blamed a splinter faction of the Mehdi militia -- and specifically Abu Rami, a notorious militiaman in Karrada and neighbor of Altaie's wife and family -- for his disappearance.

The coalition has offered up to $50,000 for information leading to his "recovery," according to the U.S. military last week.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Ingrid Formanek, Michael Ware and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

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