AC: Who took them and why?

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Length: 3:58

ANDERSON COOPER: We move on now to Iraq, where kidnappings, even mass kidnappings, are become the norm. Mainly, they involve Iraqis.

Tonight, though, U.S. troops trying to locate four Americans abducted earlier today in southern Iraq.

CNN's Michael Ware is following the developing story for us from Baghdad. He joins us now.

Michael, what do we know at this about the kidnappings? Are there any details yet?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what we're being told by the U.S. military is that an incident took place yesterday afternoon at a checkpoint near the southern town of Nasiriyah.

What we have established from other coalition sources is that the attack apparently took place at an Iraqi checkpoint, most likely an unofficial or illegal one, yet that's still to be determined. There was as many as a dozen vehicles, and up to 14 people may be missing as a result of this attack.

Of that 14, there are reports from coalition sources that four of the missing are American citizens, and there may be a fifth foreigner missing, a European -- Anderson.

COOPER: So, how does this work? I mean, has any group come forward to take responsibility? Or is that not the common procedure?

WARE: Well, we do see that in many cases, particularly those that have been motivated for political reasons.

Most often, we have seen that take place with Sunni insurgents, in particular, al Qaeda and some of the other groups. However, it doesn't necessarily mean anything that we have not heard from the kidnappers. Perhaps they have no intention of making themselves publicly known. We also see that happen quite a lot as well.

And, remember, this happened in what's Dhi Qar Province. This is an area that was transferred over to Iraqi security forces for complete responsibility back in September.

So, the coalition forces -- the Brits, the Australians, the Italians who are there -- merely protect very important logistics bases, and move along the convoy routes and that's about it. So -- and this is in Shia militia-dominated territory. So, it's clear that, most certainly, a paramilitary force of some kind was involved here -- Anderson.

COOPER: You know, there are many different kinds of kidnappings happening right now in Iraq. It might be worth just kind of going through what the different reasons that groups kidnap.

I mean, some of it is clearly just banditry. Some of it is for money. Some of it has political meaning. Some of it is sectarian, right?

WARE: Absolutely.

I mean, the most common form of kidnapping that plagues not just Westerners, but also Iraqis, at horrific levels, is kidnapping for ransom, criminal gangs benefiting from hostage-taking. There is also some degree to which insurgent elements use kidnap for ransom, particularly of Iraqis, to fund their operations.

More disturbingly, however, are kidnappings that are motivated politically, such as the use of, you know, Western hostages to pressure Western governments, or sectarian-motivated, where members of a particular sect are kidnapped and killed -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, just briefly, are they still beheading people? Or does that seem to have sort of lessened?

WARE: No, that still takes place. And, principally, that's been labeled as a signature of some of the more extreme Sunni groups, whereas some of the more extreme Shia groups, in their sectarian-motivated killings, generally seem to have a pattern of torture, one of the most prominent features being the use of drills to drill joints and into the body, and execution by gunfire -- Anderson.

COOPER: Unbelievable.

Michael, Michael Ware, appreciate it. Stay safe, Michael.