AAM: Massive abduction in Baghdad

Click photo to play
Length: 1:44

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We begin this morning in Iraq. Some breaking news there. Up to 150 people have been kidnapped from a research institute in Baghdad by gunmen who were apparently wearing police uniforms. Let's get right to CNN's Michael Ware. He's live for us in Baghdad this morning.

Good morning, Michael.


We've just seen Iraq's Minister of Higher Education stand up in parliament, nationally televised, and outline what must be one of the most breathtaking insurgent or militia operations that we've seen for some time. According to the minister, approximately four hours ago, 20 carloads containing as many as 80 gunmen in Iraqi security force uniforms surrounded a research institute here in the center of the capital of Baghdad. These 80 men, on the pretense of coming in on an official mission, according to one report even claiming they had the American ambassador with them, entered the four-story building, sealing it and the streets around it off, going through the building, segregating women from men.

They then took between 100 and 150 men hostage and took them away with them, leaving the women behind, corralled in a locked room. And that's the latest. As a result, the Minister of Higher Education says that he's now been left with no choice but to close all universities. He's not prepared, he says, to see more professors killed. So he's made official what has been a defacto closure of universities. Since semester opened, students, nor professors, have not been attending


S. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware for us in Baghdad this morning with that breaking news.

Thank you, Michael.


Click photo to play
Length: 2:48

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let's get right to that developing story out of Baghdad; 150 people, as many as 150 people have been kidnapped from a research institute in Baghdad, by gunman who were apparently wearing police uniforms. Let's get right to CNN's Michael Ware, he is live for us in Baghdad.

Michael, good morning.


Yes, we've just seen the Iraqi Minister for Higher Education in a nationally televised address to parliament, outline what appears to be a mass kidnapping at an Iraqi Institute for Higher Education just five hours ago.

Now, according to what the minister told Parliament, as many as 80 gunmen wearing Iraqi security forces uniforms showed up at the institute here in the heart of the capital, Baghdad, in more than 20 cars. They sealed off streets and the complex.

Then they entered the four-story building. It sounds like they went through it fairly systematically, Soledad, segregating the men from the women. They corralled the women and left them behind in a locked room. As they left, with what the minister says is between 100 and 150 hostages. Now, local police put that number at somewhat lower.

Nonetheless, it is clear that a mass kidnapping from an Iraqi Institute of Higher Education has taken place here. If the facts stand, this could be one of the most breathtaking insurgent or militia operations of recent times, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Is there any sense of why? It looks like this is a group that grants scholarships to Iraqi professors and students who want to study abroad. But why kidnap so many, in such an obviously coordinated and organized kind of procedure?

WARE: Well, the grabbing itself is a statement alone, to be able to assemble that many men, to be able to coordinate an operation with so many moving parts. I mean, just think of the extraction, what it would require to remove even 100 men from a site, under siege, as you hold them hostage. The sheer logistics of this operation are a bold statement in themselves.

Otherwise, attacking the universities, attacking the intelligentsia, both of today and tomorrow, the students, has been a feature of the ongoing violence here in Iraq, almost since the beginning. We've seen that reach fever pitch in the wake of what we now see as a civil war. There has been a massive brain drain from this country as professors and students have fled, and have not been attending classes since semester began, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, with actions like that, one can completely understand it. Michael Ware for us this morning in Baghdad. Thank you, Michael.

Click photo to play
Length: 2:40

MILES O'BRIEN: More on that developing story.

Let's get right to Michael Ware in Baghdad. We'll ask him about the generals and potential change in strategy in Iraq in just a moment. But first, Michael, bring us up to date on this brazen kidnapping that we saw unfold today.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's safe to say, Miles, that the capital, Baghdad, is reeling from this morning's developments.

What we saw a little over an hour ago is the Minister for Higher Education, in a nationally televised address to parliament, confirm that about six hours ago, approximately 10:00 a.m. local time, as many as 80 armed men in government uniforms driving more than 20 vehicles surrounded not just this government higher education facility, essentially a research institute, but also sealed off the streets around it. They then went in and had 20 minutes to systematically move through the four-story building, corralling women into one locked room and then physically taking away between what the minister said was 100 to 150 hostages.

Now, local police put the number somewhat lower. But nonetheless, this massive operation which required huge coordination took place in broad daylight in the heart of the capital. What does this say about this Iraqi government, about this American partner, during a period of American strategic limbo -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: That's the big question. That takes us back to what we were just talking about with Barbara Starr there.

If the U.S. is telling the prime minister, Maliki, there, you have to step up to the plate, it doesn't appear that the Iraqi government is anywhere close to being capable. Where were the authorities this morning?

WARE: Well, theoretically, the authorities protect this institution like they protect all others. And the area of Baghdad where this institution happens to be located is one of the most protected areas outside the Green Zone.

There's a number of ministers, there's the residence of the president, there's all sorts of security organizations within this area. So the generals -- the American generals are wrong. There's not a lack of political will on the part of this government to attack the militias. This government are the militias, and their political will is strong. It's just that it does not match American interests.

So, at this stage, we don't know if this was a militia or insurgent operation, but it's one of the most stunning and breathtaking we've seen for some time -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Michael Ware in Baghdad.

Thank you -- Soledad.