Insurgents with heavy weapons appeared to have taken control of the mixed Sunni and Shiite town of Madaen, just south of Baghdad, and no police or government forces were in sight, said the official.
“The residents told me the insurgents were wandering the streets in cars and warning people on loudspeakers that if Shiites want the hostages to be safe they must leave town,” he said.
Guerrillas have taken control of cities such as Fallujah before, but seizing many hostages in a town so close to the capital will pile pressure on Iraq’s new leaders to deliver the improved security Iraqis have expected since the elections.
Perhaps we’ll see the Iraqi police commandos in action. If it’s a really tough nut, though, expect serious assistance from US troops.
I’m having trouble locating this Madaen “just south of Baghdad”. Is it possible that it’s Salman Pak? This Russian map and the output of a free online translator make me think it is (click for larger view):
Another reference said that Madaen is “30km west of Baghdad”, but I can’t find it there, either. I’m thinking it’s Salman Pak, and I’m hoping that someone knowledgable will confirm this or point out the correct location.
Salman Pak, by the way, is where that Kentucky National Guard MP unit took it to the ambushers a couple of weeks back.
If these reports of dozens of hostages are true, it might be an opportunity for the Iraqi security forces to put their foot down. They’ve been taking a beating for quite some time, and I’ve got to think they want some payback. Let’s hope that whatever happens, the hostages are freed safely.