BAGHDAD, June 5—“Turn back,” a friend told Haji Abu Shamaa as he walked Monday morning toward his money-changing shop in the Karkh neighborhood of central Baghdad, a mile north of the heavily guarded Green Zone. “The Interior Ministry police are rounding up people.”
But Shamaa walked on, right into a swift, coordinated operation unfolding within sight of Iraq’s Ministry of Justice. Gunmen in police uniforms and ski masks had cordoned off the street and were swiftly shoving captives, four or five at a time, into a dozen waiting pickup trucks. Fifteen minutes later, the trucks were gone, and so were 56 people.
The roundup displayed all the signs of an unrelenting kidnapping epidemic in Baghdad. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, more than 400 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq, but thousands more Iraqis have been snatched from the streets, often by people wearing knockoff police uniforms that are easily purchased at local markets.