DAVOS (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday that three Americans who disappeared in Iraq last week “just went missing,” and he very much doubted any Iranian involvement.
Asked by a pool reporter at the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos if he thought there was an Iranian link to their disappearance, Abadi said:
“I don’t know about that. I doubt it very much. We don’t know if they have been kidnapped ... They just went missing.”
Iraqi intelligence and U.S. government sources said on Tuesday the three U.S. citizens were kidnapped and were being held by an Iranian-backed Shi‘ite militia. They are the first Americans to be abducted in Iraq since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011.
The U.S. sources said Washington had no reason to believe Tehran was involved in the kidnapping and did not believe the trio were being held in Iran, which borders Iraq.
Unknown gunmen seized the three on Friday from a private residence in the southeastern Dora district of Baghdad, Iraqi officials say.
Kerry said the United States was working closely with Iraq on the issue.
“They are really investigating this. He (Abadi) is looking at it. He was not able to shed light on the who, where or what and they are still trying to get all of that piece together.”
Kerry said he had also raised the issue in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minster Javad Zarif on Wednesday.
“I asked him for whatever help, if Iran knew any way to provide help, or if there was some way they could have impact in getting the right outcome,” he said.
“He said he would take it under advisement and try to do what they can. He didn’t have any immediate knowledge whatsoever about it.”
Some analysts believe the kidnappings were meant to embarrass and weaken Abadi, who is trying to balance Iraq’s relations with rival powers Iran and the United States.
Hostility between Tehran and Washington has eased with the lifting of crippling economic sanctions against Iran in return for compliance with a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions and a prisoner swap.
The three men are employed by a small company that is doing work for General Dynamics Corp GD.N, under a larger contract with the U.S. Army, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Richard Balmforth