Iraq kidnappers release remaining 16 Turkish workers

Friday 25/09/2015
Safe and in good health

BAGHDAD - Sixteen Turkish workers who had been kidnapped in Iraq nearly a month ago were freed on Wednesday and are in good health, Turkish officials said.

The men were among 18 employees of major Turkish construction firm Nurol Insaat kidnapped on September 2 in the Sadr City area of north Baghdad, where they were working on a football stadium project.

Two of them were released in the southern city of Basra two weeks later. The release of the other 16 had been expected after a video in which the kidnappers said their demands had been met was posted online on Sunday.

"Our 16 workers have just been received by our Baghdad ambassador. I talked to some of them on the phone," Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote on Twitter.

"Thankfully, they are in good health and are preparing to return (home) as soon as possible," he said.

The Turkish ambassador in Baghdad, Faruk Kaymakci, said they were released south of the capital on Wednesday morning.

"I can confirm they were released, around 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Baghdad, on the road to Karbala," he said.

"They are now in embassy vehicles, the Iraqi authorities will probably have a few questions to ask them. We hope to take them back to Turkey tonight or tomorrow," he said.

The kidnappers had said Turkey must order rebel forces to stop besieging Shiite villages in northern Syria, stop militants from travelling from Turkey to Iraq, and cut the flow of "stolen oil from Kurdistan through Turkish territory."

In the past 18 months, dozens of Turks have been kidnapped but later released in Iraq by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group, which overran large parts of the country last year.

But Sadr City, where the 18 Turks were kidnapped, is a stronghold of Shiite paramilitary forces opposed to the jihadists.

A soldier was killed earlier this month when security forces clashed with the Tehran-backed Shiite militia Ketaeb Hezbollah while searching for a person allegedly involved in the kidnappings.

The pair of Turkish workers released two weeks ago, one of whom had health problems, were freed in Basra, a city some 450 kilometres (280 miles) south of the capital.

The move seemed designed to project political might and rule out any suggestion that the kidnappings were perpetrated by a purely criminal extortionist organisation.

The remaining 16 were held in the Baghdad area throughout their captivity, the ambassador said.

"They were moved to four different locations but always in the Baghdad area," Kaymakci said.

Of the three conditions set by the kidnappers, the one pertaining to military developments in Syria appears to have been the key factor in the negotiations.

A deal was reached last week for a truce in an area where regime forces backed by Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah group, also backed by Tehran, have been battling Sunni Muslim rebels.

The agreement provides for the evacuation of the Idlib province villages of Fuaa and Kafraya whose residents are Shiites and had been besieged by rebels, including groups Turkey is perceived as having an influence over.

The Turkish ambassador would not comment on what led to a breakthrough in efforts to release the Turkish workers.