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U.S.: Egypt Envoy Suspect Caught

The U.S. military Thursday announced the capture of a key suspect in the kidnap-slaying of Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sherif and attacks on senior diplomats from Pakistan and Bahrain.

Egypt's top diplomat to Iraq, Ihab al-Sherif was kidnapped earlier this month by al Qaeda in Iraq. The group said in an Internet posting that it killed al-Sherif several days later.

Meanwhile, two suicide bombers struck near the Green Zone in central Baghdad on Thursday, but a third was wounded and captured by U.S. and Iraqi security forces, officials said. Two policemen died and another seven people were wounded in the blasts.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility in a Web posting for Thursday's blasts, but the claim's authenticity couldn't be verified.

In other developments:

  • An Italian soldier was killed and two others were injured when their military jeep crashed Thursday near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, the Italian Defense Ministry said.
  • Violent deaths among Iraqi civilians far exceeded those of soldiers or police during the first six months of this year, according to figures obtained Thursday from separate Iraqi government ministries.
  • A top Iraqi judge is raising the possibility that Saddam Hussein may go on trial as early as next month for his alleged role in a massacre 23 years ago. The judge says the ousted dictator could face the death penalty.

    Khamis Farhan Khalaf Abd al-Fahdawi, known as Abu Seba, was arrested last Saturday following operations in the Ramadi area west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement.

    "Seba served as a senior lieutenant of al Qaeda in Iraq, and is suspected in attacks against diplomats of Bahrain, Pakistan and the recent murder of Egyptian envoy, Ihab Salah al Din Ahmad al Sherif," the U.S. statement said. "Al Qaeda ordered the attacks against Arab diplomats in an effort to reduce support for the government of Iraq."

    The coordinated attacks Thursday by a suicide car bomber and another man wearing a vest with explosives occurred one day after a horrific blast at a poor east Baghdad neighborhood that killed 18 children and teenagers who had swarmed around a U.S. Humvee to get candy and toys.

    Up to 27 people died in the Wednesday blast — including one American soldier.

    The bomber drove straight into the crowd of children, reports

    .

    The suicide bombing Wednesday stunned the largely Shiite neighborhood. Terrified parents rushed outdoors after the bombing to find the bloodied, mangled bodies of their children scattered along the street.

    Twelve of the dead were 13 years or younger and six were between 14 and 17, police Lt. Mohammed Jassim Jabr said.

    Al Qaeda in Iraq denied any involvement in the bombing, issuing a statement that said the group is "not in the least responsible" for the attack.

    The statement's authenticity could not be verified. But it suggests the militant group is aware of the backlash the death of so many children could generate, even among Iraqis who oppose the presence of U.S.-led forces.

    One woman said of the attack, "This tarnishes the image of the true resistance."

  • For a time, Iraqi parents kept their children away from American troops. But lately, it seemed, the kids had come back. The troops took that as a positive sign that the community was starting to trust them.

    That may be exactly why the patrol was hit, says Dozier: a brutal, bloody message that militants will strike anyone — even a child — who mixes with the enemy.

    The Thursday attacks took place at a checkpoint near the Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices are located.

    "Two bombers approached the checkpoint shortly before 9 a.m. after a car bomb exploded near the same checkpoint," a U.S. military statement said. "A suicide bomber detonated himself and the other suicide bomber tried to run away from the scene. Iraqi police shot the man and were evacuating him when they discovered the vest" packed with explosives.

    An Iraqi bomb squad team disarmed the explosives, the military said. Police initially reported that they had killed the third bomber.

    Five policemen and four civilians were taken to Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital for treatment, emergency room Dr. Muhanad Jawad said. Two of the policemen later died, he said.

    Also on Thursday, gunmen attacked an Iraqiyah TV crew covering funeral ceremonies for some of the victims, wounding two, police said. They were treated at a hospital and released.

    Elsewhere, security forces discovered the bodies of 10 men handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head, police said Thursday.

    The bodies of men aged between 25 and 35 were found Wednesday night in the Maamel area on the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, said police Lt. Osama Adnan. They had no identity papers, he added.

    The discovery occurred amid increasing tension between the country's Sunni Muslim minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

    It was not clear if the dead men were Sunnis or Shiites, who make up the majority in Iraq. The influential Sunni Muslim Association of Muslim Scholars and the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political group, said they had no information about the incident.

    A group of Sunni Muslim clerics and politicians, however, urged fellow Sunnis on Thursday to take part in the coming elections, saying it is in their interest if they want to play a bigger political role in the future. Many Sunnis boycotted the January ballot.

    On Wednesday, the association accused Iraqi security forces of detaining, torturing and killing 11 Sunni Arab men, including a cleric.

    Sunni groups also accused security forces of allowing at least nine Sunnis detained last weekend to suffocate after locking them for hours in a van without ventilation as temperatures soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The Iraqi Interior Ministry said both allegations are being investigated, and if true, those responsible will be punished.

    There had been tit-for-tat killings between Sunnis and Shiites in the past. In May, 10 clerics from both sects were killed as well as dozens of followers from both groups.

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