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Iraqi PM expresses doubts that 3 Americans were kidnapped

Abadi says no demands have been made for the three and that they were most likely taken by ‘criminal gangs’

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Iraq’s prime minister has expressed doubts that the three Americans who went missing from a Baghdad neighborhood last week have been kidnapped. Haider al-Abadi says no demands have been made for the three and that they were most likely taken by “criminal gangs.” Al-Abadi spoke on Friday from Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.

Separately, Iraqi and Western security officials claimed two powerful Shiite militias - Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Saraya al-Salam - are the top suspects in the abduction. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

The Iraqi government doesn’t “know that they (Americans) have been kidnapped. They are missing” and Iraqi security forces are searching for them, Abadi said.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has confirmed that an unspecified number of Americans are missing and said it's working with Iraqi authorities to locate them. Baghdad authorities said the Americans were kidnapped from a “suspicious apartment,” and provided no other details. There has been no claim of responsibility.

Following the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi security forces in the summer of 2014, Shiite militias filled the vacuum, growing more powerful militarily than the country’s own security forces. They are some of the most effective forces on the ground combatting ISIS in Iraq, and also run security in many Baghdad neighborhoods.

The Iraqi government-allied militias are now officially sanctioned and known as Popular Mobilization Committees.

But many trace their roots to the armed groups that battled U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion and kidnapped and killed Sunnis at the height of Iraq’s sectarian bloodletting in 2006 and 2007. In the fight against IS, human rights groups have accused them of abuses targeting Sunni civilians - charges denied by militia leaders.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Iranian-backed and one of the most powerful Shiite militias operating in Iraq, has repeatedly spoken out against the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq in the fight against ISIS. Saraya al-Salam is run by Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr whose Mahdi militia often battled with U.S. forces between 2003 and 2011.

Since taking office in 2014 just months after Mosul fell to ISIS, Abadi has struggled to balance the growing power of Shiite militia groups with his government’s dependence on the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against ISIS.