Who's behind seizing Turks in Baghdad?

An Iraqi interior ministry spokesman said the Turkish construction workers were taken in the northeastern district of Habibiya

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Turkey on Wednesday confirmed that 18 Turkish construction workers have been kidnapped by unknown individuals in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

"Eighteen Turkish citizens working for a construction company in Baghdad have been kidnapped," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters. "We are in close contact with the Iraqi (interior) ministry and hope the incident will end positively."

Although the identity of the masked men is currently unknown, Metin Gurcan, a security analyst and a former special-forces officer who previously worked in Kirkuk and Baghdad, said it can be either Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or a local criminal network for ransom, or Baghdad government which has nowadays problematic relations with Turkey.

“Turkey has recently increased its visibility in the region to a significant extent. It inevitably renders Turkish citizens a precious target for various networks,” Gurcan told Al Arabiya News.

“However, kidnapping so many people at the same time and conducting a long negotiation process for releasing them is a relatively new phenomenon for Turkey and shows to what extent the regional conflict reached in making troubles for the country,” he added.

However, Gurcan noted, Turkish state and security apparatus should develop the necessary capacity and ability to overcome similar threats in its neighborhood.

In a press briefing, the spokesperson of Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tanju Bilgic said that the masked team specifically targeted Turkish nationals, selected them from the rest and left behind the workers from other nationalities.

The staff that was kidnapped comprises of 14 workers, 3 engineers and one accountant.

Being one of the largest construction companies in Turkey, Nurol Construction Company, whose workers were taken away, shared a press statement with Al Arabiya News.

“In the Sadr district of Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, our 18 Turkish staff, who were working on a stadium construction project contracted by our company, were abducted over the night of Sept 1 at about 03:00 am. Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and local security forces are currently investigating the incident,” the statement reads. The company also has a liaison office in Baghdad.

Aydin Selcen, Turkey’s former consul general in Arbil who also worked in Bagdad between 2003-2006, said that in that period there have been various kidnappings and up to now about 110 truck drivers of Turkey were killed by the local militants.

"Sadr City is one of the poorest neıghboorhoods entirely inhabited by Shia. Since its bloody civil war Baghdad unfortunately is a divided city with almost no mixed neighborhoods. Central authority is weak and criminal activity rampant," Selcen told Al Arabiya News.

Selcen noted that Turkey’s recent engagement with the coalition forces against ISIS, and its permission for the use of its strategic bases by the coalition aircraft to strike against the terrorist group may also have been one of the catalysts for this kidnapping.

“This engagement comes with a cost. Turkey should re-examine the preparedness of its security intelligence as well as the extent of its threat perception, while having a strong political will and an efficient communication policy for each of its moves in the region,” he said.

Ozdem Sanberk, former undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Turkey, agrees.

“There has been a security deficit in the region for a long time and today this vacancy is filled by jihadist and violent non-state actors who are opposed to the West,” Sanberk told Al Arabiya News.

Sanberk said that the complexity of the regional conflicts, with intense sectarian violence, makes harder to identify the real motives of such kidnappings and the main actors behind it.

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