Iraq To Diplomats: Don't Pull Out

A blindfolded man purported to be Ihab al-Sherif, head of the Egyptian Diplomatic Mission in Iraq, is seen in a video on an al-Qaida-linked Web site released Thursday July 7, 2005 at an unknown location in Iraq.
Iraq urged the world's nations Friday to stand up to "blackmail" and keep their diplomatic missions in the country despite a claim by an al Qaeda wing that it killed Egypt's top envoy.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed in a Web posting that it had killed the Egyptian diplomat, Ihab al-Sherif, and warned it would go after "as many ambassadors as we can" to punish countries that support Iraq's U.S.-backed leadership.

Meanwhile, the top U.S. commander in the Iraqi capital said Friday U.S. and Iraqi forces have "mostly eliminated" the ability of insurgents to conduct sustained, high-intensity attacks in Baghdad.

In other recent developments:

  • Italy plans to begin withdrawing some of its troops from Iraq in September, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Friday.
  • Islamic extremists have been using Iraq as a planning center for attacks around the world since losing Afghanistan as their base in 2001, the government's chief spokesman said Friday.
  • Speaking about Thursday's blasts in London that killed more than 50 people, Laith Kubba said "we don't know exactly who carried out these acts but it is clear that these networks used to be in Afghanistan and now they work in Iraq."
  • In violence Friday, a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier and wounded three in Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The soldiers belonged to the 29th Brigade Combat Team.
  • A roadside bomb and small arms fire wounded three U.S. soldiers in an attack on a coalition convoy south of Baghdad near Suwayrah, according to the Polish military, which is responsible for patrolling the area.

    Saad Mohammed Ridha, the head of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Cairo, told The Associated Press that Egypt's foreign ministry informed him late Thursday that the mission would close temporarily and the staff was recalled.

    An Egyptian official in Cairo also said Egypt would temporarily close its mission in Iraq and has recalled its staff — although there was no sign Friday that any of the Egyptians were leaving.

    Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said he hadn't been informed that Egypt intended to recall its diplomats, but urged other countries not to be intimidated.

    "If the rest of the diplomatic missions from Europe and the neighboring countries give in, this means that all the capitals of the world will be subjected to blackmail," Kubba said Friday.

    Shiite and Sunni clerics, speaking at Friday prayers, condemned al-Sherif's killing.

    "We reject any attack against any diplomat because attacking the diplomats is an act that doesn't serve our cause," said Sheik Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarie of the Association of Muslim Scholars at Baghdad's Um al-Qura mosque during Friday prayers.