Iraqi soldiers free 8 kidnapped tribal leaders

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BAGHDAD, Oct 29 (Reuters) Iraqi soldiers freed eight kidnapped tribal leaders today in a raid on a house near Baghdad where they were being held, and are searching for three others seized at the same time, the government said.

Eleven tribal sheikhs, some Sunni and some Shi'ite, were seized yesterday while returning to Diyala province northeast of Baghdad after talks with a representative of Iraq's prime minister. They were members of a group set up to fight al Qaeda in Diyala.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said troops raided the house after tip-offs from local residents. They said another location was also being raided as part of efforts to find the three tribal leaders who were still missing.

But two Diyala government officials said one of those kidnapped, Modher al-Azzawi, a Sunni sheikh, had been found dead earlier on Monday.

The US military said it had information that Arkan Hasnawi, a former brigade commander in the Mehdi Army militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, was behind the kidnappings.

''Arkan Hasnawi and his gang of criminals continue to intimidate and terrorize innocent Iraqi citizens, taking actions that mirror the tactics used by al Qaeda in Iraq,'' the military said in a statement.

Reuters GT GC2356

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