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Nearly 20,000 people kidnapped in Iraq this year--survey
Agence France-Presse
April 20, 2006

KARBALA, Iraq -- Nearly 20,000 people have been kidnapped in Iraq since the beginning of this year alone, according to a report Wednesday on violence in a country scarred by three years of conflict.

The survey, which underscores the massive social upheaval caused by rebel activity and increasing sectarian conflict, does not give the number of people killed. However, it says 15,462 people have been wounded.

The 19,548 people kidnapped includes 4,959 women and 2,350 children, according to the report prepared by a group of 125 non-governmental organizations and made public in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

The high-profile seizure of foreigners in Iraq has numbered only a few hundred since the practice began two years ago and is usually aimed at scoring propaganda points against the US-led occupation.

In contrast, the thousands of Iraqis being kidnapped are primarily the victims of political rivals and of common criminals seeking ransom.

The report also said an estimated 6,877 families have been displaced from their homes. The survey says the true number of displacements is difficult to establish, and the authorities have put the figure as high as 10,000.

Speaking of violence in general, the report says that as much as 80 percent of incidents are politically motivated.

"The violence is generated by armed militias linked to political parties and is fed by the (Iraq's) porous borders and by the delay in forming a new government" following elections in December, it says.

Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, excluded from power by the minority Sunnis throughout the country's modern history, won more seats than any other group in the election. But it has failed to put together a government of national unity amid bickering with Sunnis, Kurds and secular parties over its composition.

Parallel to that has been an explosion of tit-for-tat killings between Sunnis and Shiites since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in February. Those tensions are also seen as being the cause of many displacements, brought about by intimidation.

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