Iraqi Olympic Soccer Player Kidnapped

A popular Iraqi soccer player who was a member of the country's Olympic team has been kidnapped in Baghdad, police said.

Ghanim Ghudayer, 22, considered one of the best players in Baghdad's Air Force Club, was kidnapped on Sunday evening by unknown assailants in the al-Amil neighborhood where he lives in the western part of the capital, police 1st Lt. Mutaz Salahiddin said.

CountryWatch: Iraq

Some of the kidnappers were dressed in military uniform, Salahiddin said.

Samir Kadhim, head of the Air Force Club, said Ghudayer had been preparing to go to a training session when he was intercepted by the assailants in two vehicles. Kadhim said Ghudayer had recently signed a one-year contract with a club in Syria and had been planning to leave Iraq within a few days.

Iraqi sports officials and athletes have frequently faced threats, kidnappings and assassination attempts.

"There is a general feeling of fear among the players after the terrorists start targeting them," Kadhim said. "Some of them are not coming to training, some are not completing their training. From our side, we are encouraging them but still they have fears."

He said some soccer players were trying to get contracts abroad in order to leave the country.

In July, Iraq's national soccer coach, Akram Ahmed Salman, resigned after receiving death threats against him and his family.

Earlier that month, unknown gunmen kidnapped the chairman of Iraq's National Olympic Committee and at least 30 other officials, including the presidents of the taekwondo and boxing federations, in a brazen daylight raid on a sports conference in the heart of Baghdad.

The abduction came after Iraq's national wrestling coach, a Sunni, was killed in a Shiite district of Baghdad.

Soccer is popular in Iraq, where the national team's successes in the past three years have provided a joyous distraction from the daily violence.

CountryWatch: Iraq