Atul Aneja

Some hostages were tortured, says Minister

DUBAI: Adding momentum to the violence in Iraq, gunmen have killed nine persons and wounded several after attacking a bakery in Baghdad.

Shias run most of the bakeries in Baghdad and Sunnis have frequently targeted them, as part of surging sectarian clashes. The attack follows the mass kidnappings of academicians, staff members and visitors to a research facility attached to the Ministry of Higher Education. The Ministry and the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continue to cite divergent versions of the incident.

According to the Prime Minister's office, only 40 persons were kidnapped and all but five have been released. But Abd Dhiab, Higher Education Minister, said 150 persons had been abducted and 70 to 80 were being still held captive. The AFP news agency quoted him as saying, "Those who were set free told us that a few of the hostages have been killed, while most of them were tortured."

The U.S. military has announced that around 1,000 soldiers backed by air and artillery support had launched an operation against guerillas near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. It also said four of its soldiers had been killed in fighting, raising the number of American war dead in Iraq to 2,862. Of these, 44 servicemen have been killed in November alone.