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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
Baghdad gunmen kidnap 26 people
Map showing Baghdad, Iraq
Gunmen wearing Iraqi police uniforms have kidnapped 26 people in a commercial district in central Baghdad, interior ministry officials have said.

The gunmen pulled up in 15 vehicles and rounded up staff and customers of a firm on a shopping street in Arasat.

The head of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce was seized along with 10 of his staff, as well as 15 employees of a mobile phone company nearby.

Mass kidnappings have become a feature of the sectarian violence across Iraq.

Iraqi government officials denied that the gunmen were genuine police officers, branding them "terrorists" on state TV, reports said.

There have been regular reports that Iraqi police are involved in abductions and so-called death squads, but little concrete evidence.

Insurgents have regularly disguised themselves as police to carry out attacks.

Quick operation

One witness told the Reuters news agency they saw gunmen handcuff and blindfold the victims.

A guard standing across the street said the kidnappers arrived in police cars without number plates.

"They separated the women from the men and took only men," he told the AFP news agency.

"I saw police cars without number plates come up to the office. They separated the women employees and took only men. They took some guards, workers and the manager.

"The whole operation took less than 10 minutes."

The Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce is an independent organisation and affiliated with the US government. It has branches around Iraq and in Jordan.

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