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Russian Diplomat Murdered In Baghdad

A Russian Embassy official in Baghdad said Saturday that one diplomat was killed and four diplomatic employees were abducted in the Iraqi capital.

"Yes, I can confirm this. One diplomat killed, four employees kidnapped. That's all I can say. No commentary," the official, contacted by telephone from Moscow, told The Associated Press. He refused to give his name or provide any further details.

Police in Baghdad said witnesses at the scene told them that gunmen opened fire on a car that belonged to the Russians in west Baghdad's upscale Mansour district.

Interior Ministry Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohamedawi said one person was killed in the incident.

In other recent developments:

  • A suicide car bomber killed at least 15 people and injured 30 on saturday in the main market of oil-rich Basra, Iraq's second largest city. The explosion occurred in the late afternoon when a large number of people were in the square, Captain Mushtaq Kadhim of the Basra police said.
  • A military investigation into allegations that U.S. troops intentionally killed Iraqi civilians in a March raid in Ishaqi, a village north of Baghdad, has cleared the troops of misconduct, the military said Friday.
  • The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq urged Sunnis to confront Shiites and ignore calls for reconciliation in a new audiotape posted on the Web on Friday, saying Shiite militias are killing and raping the Sunni Arab minority. The tape was a four-hour sermon by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi against Shiites, denouncing their top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as an "atheist" and saying the community had collaborated with invaders throughout Iraq's history.
  • The Pentagon has released the name of the soldier who was killed Monday by the same bomb that took the life of the Iraqi translator he called "Sam" and CBS crew members James Brolan and Paul Douglas, and wounded CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier. Army Capt. James Funkhouser, 35, had been in Iraq only a few months. He leaves behind a wife, Jennifer, and two daughters, Caitlyn and Allison.
  • A military jury on Thursday convicted an Army dog handler of using his animal to torment a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. Sgt. Santos A. Cardona is the 11th soldier convicted of crimes stemming from the abuse of inmates at the prison in late 2003 and early 2004.
  • The U.S. military ordered coalition troops in Iraq on Thursday to undergo special training in ethics and "the values that separate us from our enemies" in the wake of allegations that Marines killed two dozen unarmed civilians in Haditha. The order came as Iraq's government launched its own investigation of the deaths last November in the western town as well as other incidents involving U.S. troops.

    Iraqi police on Saturday found eight severed heads north of Baghdad with a note indicating at least one of the men were killed in retaliation for the slaying of four Shiite doctors, authorities said.

    Five of the slain men were security guards at a hospital complex in the capital who had been arrested by Iraqi police on Thursday, Lt. Col. Adil Al-Zihari of the Diyala police said.

    Notes found with the heads near a highway in the Hadid village near the volatile city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, said one of those killed was Abdul Aziz al-Sheik Hamad and accused him of killing four Shiite doctors and a former governor during the administrator of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

    The heads were transferred in fruit boxes to the morgue in Baqouba, a mixed Sunni Arab-Shiite town that has recently seen an increase in sectarian violence.

    Gunmen also ambushed a police checkpoint in the city on Saturday, killing seven policemen and wounding five pedestrians, police said.

    Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, held last-minute negotiations with Sunni and Shiite leaders on the eve of his planned announcement of names for the interior and defense ministers, two weeks after his government of national unity took office.

    Al-Maliki promised earlier this week to fill the posts on Sunday, despite failing to reach an agreement on candidates with ethnic and sectarian parties.

    The appointments are considered key to his plan to take over the security of Iraq within 18 months, a move that could pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

    The defense and interior minister posts have been temporarily held by al-Maliki and one of his deputy prime ministers since the Cabinet was sworn in May 20. The Interior Ministry post will go to a Shiite. Sunni Arabs have complained that many Shiite candidates had ties to militias.

    Al-Maliki told visiting U.S. congressmen on Friday that "we are keen to march in the correct direction to confront these challenges despite the difficulties."

    U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told al-Maliki that "an important next step is for the Iraqi government to seek national reconciliation in order to end the insurgency and disband the sectarian militias."

    Al-Maliki also said that his government was working on a plan to restore security to Ramadi, capital of Anbar province. He said Iraqi forces would work with U.S. troops.

    "There is a joint plan between the Iraqi forces and the coalition forces, in addition to the local (Sunni Arab) tribes, to help us bring stability to the city," al-Maliki said of Ramadi.

    A U.S. military spokesman said this week that American forces are "very concerned" about the situation in Ramadi because al Qaeda in Iraq is taking advantage of sectarian differences to make inroads in the city west of Baghdad.

    Maj. Gen. William Caldwell confirmed earlier that about 1,500 combat troops have been moved from Kuwait to Anbar province to help establish order. He described the deployment as short-term to ensure continuity during summer rotations and said the focus was on quelling the al Qaeda presence in the area to keeping foreign fighters from crossing over from Syria, which borders Anbar.

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