More than 100 employees of Iraq’s ministry of industry were kidnapped by gunmen north of Baghdad as they left work.
The abduction came on the same day the body of one of Saddam Hussein’s lawyers was found in the capital after he was kidnapped and murdered.
Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants went on a hunger strike today to protest against the killing of Khamis al-Obeidi, pledging “not to end the strike until international protection is provided to the defence team,” according to Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam’s chief defence lawyer.
And Iraq’s trade minister lashed out at Australia after escorts guarding an embassy delegation that visited him at his Baghdad office shot dead one of his own guards and wounded several others.
“They are trampling on the dignity and sovereignty of Iraqis,” Abdel Falah al-Sudani, a member of parliament’s dominant Shiite bloc, said on state television.
“We demand an explanation from the Australian government for this intentional and unwarranted criminal aggression against members of our protection force.”
An interior ministry source told AFP that gunmen with the Australian delegation had opened fire at the plainclothes bodyguards they encountered as they left the minister’s compound in Baghdad’s western Harthiya neighbourhood.
“They thought the bodyguards had nothing to do with the Iraqi police forces guarding the compound,” the source said.
The deputy head of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, confirmed that members of the ADF security detachment had been involved in the shooting.
“The security detachment was conducting routine security duties when this incident occurred,” he said in a statement.
“The ADF deeply regrets the injuries and loss of life that has occurred,” he said.
The ADF said it would be launching an investigation into the shooting.
Ambushed by gunmen
Workers at the Hateen and Nasr factories in the restive town of Taji, north of Baghdad, were ambushed and abducted by at least 50 gunmen who had arrived in five minibuses, a security source said.
“The employees took their seats on the buses that were waiting for them as usual,” when armed men appeared aboard a number of mini-buses, the source said.
“Groups of four to five gunmen (then) took control of the buses and drove them to an unknown destination,” he said, adding that the occupants of one bus overpowered their hijackers and drove to Baghdad to report what had happened.
No further details were immediately available on the spectacular kidnapping, which resembled similar incidents in the past in which ordinary civilians as well as Iraqi army and police members have been snatched en masse.
Fifty people working for long distance bus travel companies in central Baghdad were kidnapped in broad daylight on June 5 by gunmen dressed in interior ministry uniforms.
Only 17 of them have since been released.
Hateen and Nasr were part of the military-industrial complex under the rule of ousted leader Saddam Hussein before their conversion into civilian manufacturing facilities belonging to the industry ministry.
The factories had been visited by UN inspectors in relation to the former regime’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programme.
Taji, 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Baghdad, is also home to a major former regime military base now occupied by US forces.
Mr Obeidi was the third defence attorney to be slain since the October start of the trial for the massacre of 148 Shiites in the 1980s.
He was snatched from his home in the predominantly Sunni Arab district of Adhamiyha.
His body was found a few hours later dumped at a nearby roundabout.
A US official close to the court said Mr Obeidi had declined an offer to stay inside the fortress-like Green Zone, where the trial is taking place.
But his wife said “he was never offered to stay in the Green Zone.”
Raed al-Juhi, the chief investigative judge in the Saddam trial, said that like other lawyers Mr Obeidi had a government budget to arrange for his own protection.
The defence is scheduled to present its closing arguments on July 10, and a verdict is expected in mid-September.
Despite the massive security operation in Baghdad launched last week, dozens of people have been killed in a spate of bombings and attacks.
Eleven other people were killed on Wednesday.
Two died in a car bomb attack in Baghdad, and two others in other incidents in the capital.
Five people were killed in and around Baquba and two more in
And police also found a total of 18 bodies on Wednesday, including 16 bullet-riddled corpses in Mosul.
Meanwhile, a coalition of insurgent groups led by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Mujahedeen Shura (consultative) Council, said four Russian diplomats it had abducted in early June should be executed because Moscow refused its demands to pull out of Chechnya and release Muslim prisoners from Russian jails.
The remains of two US soldiers who were captured by insurgents on Friday and killed were flown to the United States for formal identification.
The bodies of Kristian Menchaca, 23, and Thomas Tucker, 25, were found south of Baghdad on Monday.
In Washington senators from the opposition Democratic party introduced competing bills for an early withdrawal of US troops from the country.
Neither measure has any hope of passing in the Republican-controlled chamber.