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Insurgents mount attacks against Arab and Muslim diplomats in Iraq

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Insurgents mounted attacks against Arab and Muslim diplomats in Iraq on Tuesday, wounding Bahrain's top envoy in a kidnapping attempt. Pakistan's ambassador also escaped an assault on his convoy.

The attacks came three days after gunmen seized Egypt's top envoy to Iraq as he was buying a newspaper in the capital, appearing to signal an insurgent campaign to discourage Islamic countries from bolstering ties with the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

Al-Qaida in Iraq purportedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the Egyptian diplomat, Ihab al-Sherif, in an Internet statement.

Two cars belonging to the Russian Embassy in Baghdad also came under fire Sunday in the capital, but no embassy personnel were wounded, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday in Moscow.

"The aim is clear, just to create a state of fear," Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kuba told reporters. Al-Sherif's kidnapping "was an attempt to ... scare the other diplomatic missions so that they won't expand their presence in Iraq."

The Bahraini diplomat, Hassan Malallah al-Ansari, was shot on his way to work in the Mansour district of western Baghdad, said Dr. Muhanad Jawad of Yarmouk Hospital. The Bahraini diplomat was treated for a shoulder wound and released, witnesses said.

"There was an attempt to kidnap him by gunmen when he was on his way from his house to the Bahrain mission in Baghdad," Bahrain Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Yousef Mahmoud was quoted as saying by the official Bahrain News Agency.

Pakistan's Ambassador Mohammed Younis Khan said gunmen riding in two cars opened fire on his convoy as he was on his way home from work in the same neighborhood, but he wasn't wounded.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said it has asked Khan to leave the country temporarily.

"Our escort fired back at them so we were able to escape without any harm," Khan said. "It happened so quickly I didn't have time to think of being scared."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said the embassy cars were attacked while traveling along the dangerous road leading to the airport in Baghdad, according to the Interfax news agency.

Fire was scattered

But the fire "was not aimed specifically at the Russian Embassy cars, but was scattered," he said, without elaborating.

The terror group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said al-Sherif was in the custody of its fighters and more information would be released later.

"We, the al-Qaida in Iraq organization, announce that the Egyptian ambassador has been kidnapped by our mujahedeen and he is under their control," said the statement posted on a Web forum used by radical Islamic groups.

The claim, which could not be independently confirmed, was signed by "Abu Maysara al-Iraqi," the name commonly used by the group.

Witnesses said the abductors accosted al-Sherif Saturday night in western Baghdad and shoved him into the trunk of a car after pistol-whipping him. They accused him of being an American spy, witnesses said.

Egypt announced last month that it would upgrade its mission in Iraq to full embassy status headed by an ambassador, which would have made al-Sherif the first Arab ambassador to Iraq's new government although the timing of the move was uncertain.

The tiny Gulf state of Bahrain is a close American ally and home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which played a support role during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Pakistan has been a heavy backer of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, but it has offered only lukewarm support for America's activities in Iraq. Several Pakistanis have been kidnapped and killed by insurgents in Iraq, but this was the first assault on a Pakistani official.

In other violence Tuesday, two suicide car bombers wounded four U.S. Marines in the western town of Hit on Tuesday, three days after military commanders announced that an Iraqi army battalion backed by Marines would be stationed in the town, a U.S. spokeswoman said.

Gunmen ambushed a minibus taking seven Baghdad airport employees to work, killing four women and wounding three men, police and hospital officials said.

A roadside bomb blast and a subsequent firefight killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded seven others on Baghdad's outskirts in the Abu Ghraib district, police and hospital officials said.

A mortar attack, meanwhile, missed a U.S. military base and struck central Samarra, killing a 13-year-old girl and wounding four civilians, police said. The city is 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Another mortar attack killed two sisters, ages 20 and 30, doctors said, in an area just north of Ramadi, the capital of the volatile western Anbar province. It was not known who fired the mortar.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in insurgent attacks since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his new government, dominated by Shiites and Kurds, on April 28.

Associated Press writer Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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