November 4, 2015 / 5:21 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-Iraqi oil ministry official freed after brief kidnapping

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BAGHDAD, Nov 4 (Reuters) - A senior official in Iraq’s oil ministry was kidnapped in Baghdad on Wednesday but quickly freed by security forces, Baghdad operations command said in a statement.

The capital of Iraq, OPEC’s second biggest oil exporter, has seen a proliferation in recent years of well-armed criminal gangs that carry out contract killings, kidnappings and extortion.

Militants wearing military uniforms seized the official, who was not named but holds the rank of general manager, in the northern district of al-Salikh.

Security forces captured the perpetrators, in a convoy of four vehicles, after following them and then blocking the road.

The command centre did not identify them or their affiliation.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi praised the security forces in a separate statement and pledged to protect Iraqis by “striking against criminal gangs”.

Some members of powerful Shi’ite armed groups, which are seen as a critical deterrent against Islamic State militants, have also been accused of kidnapping people for political or criminal purposes, allegations they deny.

Iraq is also gripped by a sectarian conflict mostly between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims that has been exacerbated by the rise of the ultra-hardline Islamic State group, which seized large swathes of territory.

Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Michael Georgy and Ralph Boulton

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