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Al Qaeda Says It Killed Algerians

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility Wednesday for killing two Algerian diplomats who were kidnapped in Baghdad last week, the second slaying of Arab envoys in Iraq this month.

Algerian state radio said Ali Belaroussi and Azzedine Belkadi had been killed, although the announcement from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika did not provide the source of the information.

Belaroussi, 62, and Belkadi, 47, were kidnapped at gunpoint July 21 in Baghdad's upscale Mansour area.

"The head of the Algerian mission Ali Belaroussi and the diplomat Azzedine Belkadi, whose government is ruling in violation of God's will, were killed," said a statement from al Qaeda in Iraq that appeared on an Islamic Web site.

They were slain because of the Algerian government's repression of Muslims in their north African country, the Internet statement said.

In a video made public Tuesday, the pair appeared blindfolded and in captivity, giving their names and home addresses.

In other developments:

  • The top American commander in Iraq said Wednesday there could be a "fairly substantial" pullout of American troops by next spring if there's continued political progress in Iraq and if the rebellion can be held in check. Iraq's transitional prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, meanwhile, called for a speedy withdrawal of American forces. He said at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the time has come for a coordinated transition from American to Iraqi military control across the country. Rumsfeld, however, when asked how soon a U.S. withdrawal should happen, said no exact timetable had been set.
  • Classified U.S. personnel used a sledgehammer handle to beat prisoners in Iraq, according to a National Guard soldier who testified during a closed military hearing involving four Colorado-based soldiers in March. Sgt. 1st Class Gerold Pratt of the Utah National Guard said he saw the unidentified personnel use a 15-inch wooden handle to hit prisoners.
  • Seventeen employees of the court preparing to try Saddam Hussein may lose their jobs for being former members of the ousted leader Baath Party, an official said Wednesday. It is unclear, however, whether the dismissals would take place before the start of Saddam's trial, expected in September.
  • A senior Baghdad International Airport official was abducted on Wednesday, along with his driver and another companion, police said. Mahir Yassin, director of the communication department at Baghdad airport, was kidnapped from Baghdad's western Mansour neighborhood on his way to work by assailants in two cars.

  • Seven Iraqi soldiers were shot and killed as they were guarding a water plant north of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said Wednesday. About 20 assailants armed with hand grenades and light weapons drove up in four cars and opened fire Tuesday on the soldiers in the town of Tarmiyah, 30 miles north of Baghdad.
  • Mortar attacks on Baghdad's main bus station on Wednesday killed at least two and injured 20 others, hospital officials said. During the afternoon attack, two mortars landed on the bustling station in the capital, according to a doctor at Yarmouk Hospital. Most of the victims are believed to be Iraqi civilians.
  • Two suicide attackers who apparently targeted the Iraqi military blew themselves up in quick succession on Wednesday outside a hospital in northern Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding eight, police Maj. Suleiman Abdul-Wahed said.

    Meanwhile, progress on Iraq's new constitution ran into another snag as Iraqi Kurds threaten not to back down from demands for a federal state despite problems this may create in meeting an Aug. 15 deadline that U.S. officials are pushing.

    Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, also said Kurds would never dissolve their militias and repeated demands for the return of ethnic Kurds to the oil-rich Kirkuk area from which tens of thousands of them were expelled under Saddam Hussein.

    Barzani's comments, broadcast by Al-Arabiya television, indicated the Kurds are standing firm on longtime demands at a time when the United States is urging all sides to compromise in order to finish the new constitution by the Aug. 15 deadline.

    His remarks were broadcast as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad to urge the Iraqis not to miss the deadline for completing the draft of the constitution. The Defense Department wields considerable influence among the Kurds, who worked closely with the Americans in preparations for the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam.

    "It's time for a compromise. That's what politics are about and people are simply going to have to recognize that (in) any constitutional drafting process, compromise is necessary. It's important. It's understandable. It's the way democratic systems work," Rumsfeld said.

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