BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 14, 2006 -- Iraqi leadership was undermined today when gunmen, dressed as police officers, surrounded a government building and kidnapped nearly everyone in sight.
There are reports that some of these hostages have been released, but it remains unclear who ordered their kidnapping.
The victims were government workers who administer university scholarships. One hour after they arrived for work in central Baghdad, scores of gunmen blocked the road outside, brushed past the guards at the entrance and stormed the building.
The gunmen moved quickly from room to room, separating men from women, handcuffing the men and confiscating cell phones. They then loaded the men into pickup trucks and drove away, unchallenged as they went through police checkpoints in the neighborhood.
The entire operation took less than 20 minutes, and according to an eyewitness who didn't want to give his name to ABC News, the perpetrators were "wearing military uniforms."
The uniforms were recently issued to police commandos at the Ministry of Interior with a blue camouflage pattern design that could not be counterfeited by militias posing as police. They also contain a serial number, associated with the officer receiving the uniform.
The kidnapping calls into question how much real power the central government has left in Iraq.
"This is a political attack aimed at destroying the state," said higher education minister Abed Dhaib al Ajili.
Others see a sectarian motive -- the Ministry of Higher Education is controlled by a Sunni political party, while the Interior Ministry is run by Shiites, some with links to the feared militias.
Five senior policemen, including the neighborhood police chief, have been arrested. But with no claims of responsibility and no calls for ransom, the relatives of the kidnapped victims are left to wonder just who is in charge on the streets of Baghdad.