U.S.. and local authorities are searching for three American citizens who were reportedly kidnapped in Baghdad, officials from the two countries said on Sunday.
Kidnappings are a major problem in Baghdad and other parts of the country and most frequently target Iraqis, but Qatari and Turkish citizens have also been seized in recent months.
“We are aware of reports that American citizens are missing in Iraq,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
“We are working with the full cooperation of the Iraqi authorities to locate and recover the individuals,” Kirby added, without providing details about their number or the circumstances of their disappearance.
An Iraqi police colonel said on condition of anonymity that three Americans and an Iraqi translator were kidnapped in southern Baghdad, and that Iraqi forces have launched an operation to find them.
The officer said that according to information he had received, the kidnappers were militiamen wearing military uniforms.
“We don’t know what their work is,” the colonel said of the kidnapped Americans.
Iraq turned to paramilitary forces dominated by Iran-backed Shiite militias to help combat the Islamic State jihadi group, which overran large parts of the country in 2014.
These groups, which fall under an umbrella organization known as the Hashed al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization units, have played a key role in the fight against the jihadis.
But they have also been accused of abuses, including summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier confirmed that “several” Americans are missing in Iraq after local media reported that three Americans had been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Scott Bolz said Sunday that “We are working in full cooperation with Iraqi authorities to locate the missing Americans.”
His comments came after the Arab news channel, al-Arabiya, citing its own sources, reported that three Americans had been kidnapped by militias in Baghdad.
The incident comes after a week that has seen a deterioration of security in and around the Iraqi capital after months of relative calm.
The Islamic State group claimed a number of attacks in Baghdad and Diyala province last week that killed more than 50 people, including a high profile attack on a mall in the Iraqi capital.