Three US citizens abducted in Iraq in January have been handed over to the US embassy in Baghdad. The incident was seen as an attempt by Shiite militias to undermine the Iraqi state's control.
"We sincerely appreciate the assistance provided by the government of Iraq and its whole-of-government effort to bring about the safe release of these individuals," US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement on Tuesday.
A senior Iraqi official told AFP news agency on condition of anonymity: "A force belonging to the intelligence services was able to free the kidnapped Americans."
Dozens of foreign citizens were kidnapped in Iraq in recent months. In December, more than two dozen Qataris were abducted from the country's south, but this was the first incident where US citizens had been kidnapped.
The three individuals went missing last month from a "suspicious apartment" in Dora, a Baghdad neighborhood housing members of the rival Shiite and Sunni communities.
The kidnappings were seen as an attempt to undermine confidence in the Iraqi government's ability to control Shiite militias, which have grown more brazen as US-backed Iraqi security forces fight the Sunni militant group, "Islamic State" ("IS").
The militias, linked to the umbrella organization "Hashed al-Shabi," translated as Popular Mobilization Units, have helped US and Iraqi forces fight IS. However, the groups have also been suspected of abuses, summary executions, kidnappings and destruction of property.
mg/kms (AFP, AP)