An al-Qaida-linked Sunni group claimed Friday that it had kidnapped 18 government workers and soldiers in retaliation for the alleged rape of a Sunni woman by members of the Shiite-dominated police force.
The claim by the Islamic State of Iraq was posted Friday on a Web site, accompanied by nine pictures showing up to 18 men. Seven were wearing Iraqi military uniforms, and all had their hands tied behind their backs.
"This blessed operation is a response crimes carried out by those infidels in their fight against the Sunnis," the statement said. "The latest of the crimes committed by these traitors was to rape our sister in religion."
The statement, whose authenticity could not be independently verified, said the kidnap victims were all employees of the Ministry of Interior, which is Shiite-led. It referred to the victim by her name, which identified her as Sunni, the AP says.
However, officials of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni group, said the woman used a false name when making the allegation and that she is in fact a Shiite. The party's human rights office had been looking into the case.
Names of the officers involved in the case were not released, and it was unknown whether they were Sunni or Shiite, the AP says.
The woman told Arab television stations that she was detained in a Sunni area of west Baghdad on Feb. 18, taken to a police garrison and assaulted by three officers.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, announced an investigation Feb. 19 but cleared the officers the following day, raising outrage among Sunni politicians.
The Associated Press has chosen not to publish her name.