BAGHDAD - Armed men in police uniform seized dozens of Iraqi private security guards from their firm's compound on Wednesday, police said, but officials contradicted each other over whether they were arrested or kidnapped.
Three of the most senior officials in the Interior Ministry insisted no raid was authorized on the company in Baghdad. Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the private guards had been arrested by genuine police commandos.
One senior official in the Interior Ministry said police raided the company after a complaint from a corporate client dissatisfied with the firm's security services.
But Major General Mohammed al-Hassan, the ministry's head of operations, said in a statement: "The Interior Ministry is not involved in any way in this arrest."
The confusion was not unusual in matters relating to Iraq's security forces, which were accused in a U.S. State Department report on Wednesday of widespread torture and other abuses.
The U.S.-backed Iraqi government has admitted that some units have operated beyond its control.
Police officers working at their Baghdad headquarters said witnesses and patrol officers had reported that about 50 employees of the security firm had been taken away from their headquarters by men in uniform driving police pick-up trucks.
Many Iraqis, especially in the Sunni minority, fear police from the Shi'ite-run Interior Ministry. The ministry says many accounts of gunmen in police uniform abducting and killing civilians are the result of insurgents stealing their uniforms.
The discovery of the bodies of 18 men, tortured and strangled, in a minibus near a Sunni insurgent stronghold in Baghdad, prompted renewed comment on Wednesday about police abuses, although the victims' identities were unclear.
In a measure of the problems the police face, one senior Interior Ministry official, who said no official raid had been authorized, questioned why the security company employees had surrendered to the uniformed force without a fight.
"I don't know what happened," he told Reuters. "But what sort of security firm was it anyway when they didn't even defend themselves when people tried to get into the compound, whether they were in police uniform or not? They deserve all they get."
(Additional reporting by Lutfi Abu Oun and Faris al-Mehdawi)
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