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US troops hunt missing Iraqi MP, group makes demands

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, July 5 (Reuters) US and Iraqi troops scoured Baghdad for a kidnapped Sunni lawmaker today as a group claiming to have abducted her contacted her party to set demands for her release, including the withdrawal of US forces.

Taiseer Najah al-Mashhadani's kidnapping has sparked a political furore. The Iraqi Accordance Front, the biggest Sunni bloc, is boycotting parliament, dealing a blow to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's attempts to heal sectarian tensions.

Mashhadani's Iraqi Islamic Party is the biggest party in the Accordance Front, which has said it will not return to Iraq's assembly until she is released.

Gunmen seized her and seven guards in a mainly Shi'ite district of Baghdad on Saturday. Some Sunni leaders have blamed the kidnapping on Shi'ite militias, who they also accuse of death squad killings, a charge the militias deny.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, an Accordance Front leader, told Reuters that the purported kidnappers had demanded Mashhadani's party call for a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, the release of detainees held in volatile Diyala province, and an end to ''attacks on Shi'ites and their mosques''.

''We are still not sure how credible this group is and whether they are actually holding her or not,'' he added.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, which has long called for a timetable for US withdrawal, confirmed receiving the demands and said it was ''extremely worried'' about Mashhadani's safety.

US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said a major aerial and ground operation involving US and Iraqi troops had been launched to find her.

''They conducted several operations last night but they did not produce results,'' he told a news briefing in Baghdad.

''This is an attempt to thwart the road toward democracy and the rule of law. We will continue to collect intelligence to ensure her safe return and those with her.'' REUTERS PKS RK2015

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