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Arab, Muslim Diplomats Targeted

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. The terrorist group al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

"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.

In other recent developments:

  • A major Sunni Arab group has called on Sunnis to take part in future elections, action that could diminish the insurgency.
  • 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. The attack occurred on the dangerous airport road, near the Amariyah crossroad in west Baghdad, police Capt. Talib Thamir 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 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.
  • A roadside bomb also targeted a U.S. security convoy near the Iranian Embassy, causing no U.S. casualties but wounding one Iraqi, officials said. Elsewhere, U.S. and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents in a Ramadi neighborhood, police said. The U.S. military could not immediately confirm the report.

    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 country temporarily after the attack.

    "Our escort fired back at them so we were able to escape without any harm," Khan told The Associated Press. He said he believed that one of the attackers' cars was hit by fire from his bodyguards, but he was not sure if any of the men were injured.

    "It happened so quickly I didn't have time to think of being scared," said Khan, who was named Pakistan's ambassador to Iraq earlier this year. He said security would be stepped up, but declined to give details.

  • There was still no word Tuesday on the fate of the kidnapped Egyptian envoy, Ihab al-Sherif, 51.

    Witnesses said the abductors accosted him 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.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq said in a Web posting Tuesday that it had carried out the kidnapping. It was the first time that the group, headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for kidnapping a diplomat.

    "We, the al Qaeda 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 Islamic radical groups to announce claims of responsibility.

    The statement made no threat to kill al-Sherif, and did not present any demands. It said only that further information would be released later.

    The claim could not be independently confirmed. It was signed with the user name "Abu Maysara al-Iraqi," the name used on all claims by al Qaeda in Iraq.

    The Pentagon said it can't confirm that the group is behind the kidnapping.

    Egypt announced last month that it would become the first Arab country to post an ambassador to Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

    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 Pakistani civilians have been kidnapped and killed by insurgents in Iraq, but this was the first assault on a Pakistani official.

    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.

    Despite the ongoing violence, Iraq's embattled government appeared to be making progress in moves to woo the country's Sunni Arab minority, which forms the core of the insurgency. Many Sunnis boycotted the Jan. 30 election, meaning the community is not strongly represented in the new National Assembly.

    On Monday, Dr. Adnan Al-Dulami, spokesman of the General Conference for Sunnis in Iraq, called on fellow Sunnis "to organize themselves to take part in the coming elections and to start to register their names at the offices of the electoral commission."

    Al-Dulami said Sunni clerics would soon issue a religious decree repeating the call. Clerics spearheaded the January boycott, saying any election held with U.S. and other foreign troops in the country would be invalid.

    Following al-Dulaimi's call, Humam Hammoudi, head of the committee to draft a new constitution, said 15 Sunnis had been approved to join the committee and would begin work Wednesday. The inclusion of Sunnis on the committee had been delayed because majority Shiites and Kurds had accused nominees of links to Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

    Sunni Arabs are estimated to make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people and dominated Iraqi political life for generations until Saddam's regime was ousted in 2003.

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