Iraqi group claims responsibility for mass kidnap


An Iraqi resistance group claimed responsibility today for the kidnapping 15 Iraqi National Guard members who were reported missing last week.

The 15 guardsmen had been pulled from a bus near their base in the town of Hit, 90 miles west of Baghdad.

A statement posted on an Islamic Web site took responsibility on behalf of Ansar al-Sunnah.

"Your brothers were able to carry off a well-turned ambush against the crusaders' right hand in Iraq," the statement said, using "crusaders" as a term for Western forces.

It gave no indication of the men's fate.

Ansar al-Sunnah has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, including a December suicide bombing that killed 22 people, most of them Americans, at a U.S. military dining tent on a base in Mosul.

The group is also blamed in the August executions of 12 Nepalese construction workers and twin suicide bombings in February that killed 109 members of Iraq's assertive Kurd minority.

Elsewhere today, about 300 followers of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr began a three-day sit-in in front of the Oil Ministry in Baghdad to protest gasoline shortages that have caused hours-long waits at gas stations.

About a dozen of them entered the ministry and complained to Minister Thamir Ghadbhan, asking why US troops have fuel for their vehicles and Iraqis don't.

Meanwhile, the ministry announced that Iraq expects to resume pumping crude oil from its northern oil fields to the export terminal of Ceyhan in 10 days.

The flow of oil through the northern pipeline has halted since an explosion caused by saboteurs on Dec. 18.

A ministry statement said repair work on the damaged export pipeline that carries crude oil from Kirkuk oil fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan was expected to finish in 10 days and exports were to restart immediately after.

Iraq's northern pipeline, the target of repeated insurgent attacks, was pumping around 400,000 barrels a day before the latest attack. The storage facilities at Ceyhan ran dry last month.