Gunmen wearing Iraqi police commando uniforms kidnapped up to 150 staff members from a government research institute in downtown Baghdad on Tuesday, the head of the parliamentary education committee said.
Alaa Makki interrupted a parliamentary session to say between 100 and 150 people, both Shiites and Sunnis, had been abducted in the 9:30 a.m. (0630 GMT) raid. He urged the prime minister and ministers of interior and defense to rapidly respond to what he called a "national catastrophe."
Makki said the gunmen had a list of names of those to be taken and claimed to be on a mission from the government's anti-corruption body.
Those kidnapped included the institute's deputy general directors, employees, and visitors, he said.
Police and eyewitnesses said gunmen closed off roads around the institute in the downtown Karradah district at about 9:30 a.m. (0630 GMT).
Police spokesman Maj. Mahir Hamad said the entire operation took about 20 minutes. Four guards at the institute put up no resistance and were unharmed, he said.
A female professor visiting at the time of the kidnappings said the gunmen forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and loaded them aboard about six pickup trucks. She said the gunmen, some of them masked, wore blue camouflage uniforms of the type worn by police commandos.
The abductions appeared to be the boldest in a series of killings and other attacks on Iraqi academics that are robbing Iraq of its brain trust and prompting thousands of professors and researchers to flee to neighboring countries to escape the country's boiling lawlessness and sectarian hatred.
Recent weeks have seen a university dean and prominent Sunni geologist murdered, bringing the death toll among educators to at least 155 since the war began. The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.
Ali al-Adib, a Shiite lawmaker, said there was little question Tuesday's incident was a mass kidnapping and demanded that U.S. troops held responsible for the security lapse, reports AP.
"The detention of 150 people from a government institution without informing the higher education minister ... means this is an abduction operation," al-Adib said.
"There is a political goal behind this grave action," he said.