Envoy's abduction furthers diplomatic chill

Diplomats say they fear for safety in Iraq

no clues to Egyptian's whereabouts

July 05, 2005|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The kidnapping of Egypt's top envoy in Baghdad has sent shivers through the capital's small diplomatic community and may further hamper Iraq's drive to restore full diplomatic relations with the world.

Ihab al-Sherif was abducted as he drove between his home and a store Saturday night, and there was no new information yesterday on his whereabouts or any claim of responsibility. In Cairo, his family said they had received no message from the kidnappers.

Al-Sherif, head of Egypt's diplomatic mission in Baghdad, was set to become a full-fledged ambassador, the first from an Arab country since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have accused the Arab world's mostly Sunni Muslim nations of refusing to restore full diplomatic ties with Iraq because it has been led by Shiites since the handover of sovereignty in June last year.

But Demiye Haddad, the Jordanian Embassy's charge d'affaires, said security - not politics - is the issue.

"All diplomats are targets here," Haddad said in an interview during a July Fourth celebration on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy. "Jordan has demonstrated that we have stood by the new Iraq. When the safety of our ambassador is assured, we will bring an ambassador."

Even non-Arab countries such as Canada, which does not keep an embassy in Baghdad and has a skeleton staff of two diplomats, have shunned Iraq.

Diplomats say they fear for their safety in Iraq and are concerned that their nations could become targets of terrorists if they appear to warm up to Baghdad.

Yesterday, police reported another abduction, this time of a member of Baghdad's City Council in the Kadhemiya district. Ahlam Ahmed Mahmoud Jabouri was grabbed in front of her home Sunday by two men in a sky-blue Oldsmobile, an Interior Ministry official said.

Violence continued throughout the capital. A car bomb exploded on a street leading to Baghdad's treacherous airport road, killing a couple and injuring their son. A roadside bomb in the Zafarania district killed one civilian.

Nearly 250 U.S. and 600 Iraqi soldiers swept through a western Baghdad neighborhood, arresting about 100 suspected insurgents in a fresh crackdown near the city's airport.

The sweep began before dawn yesterday and was aimed at insurgent safe houses in neighborhoods near Baghdad International Airport, the U.S. military said. U.S. officials said foreign fighters -including Egyptians - were among about 100 suspected insurgents arrested by the U.S. and Iraqi forces.

In the capital's well-fortified Green Zone, Iraq's political leaders joined U.S. military commanders and diplomats from the United States and other countries to commemorate Independence Day.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani commended the Bush administration's efforts to change Iraq and the Middle East. The mass graves that Saddam Hussein left behind justified the war, the Kurdish leader said. "It is the worst kind of WMD," or weapon of mass destruction, he said. President Bush had cited the threat of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical or biological weapons - as a key rationale for the invasion, although none was found.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari praised America's democratic principles and urged Iraqis not to allow violence to derail Iraq's freely elected government.

"They should not allow the car bomb to change the nature of an elected government," al-Jaafari told about 250 guests gathered for an outdoor barbecue.

U.S. charge d'affaires David Satterfield, filling in for an ailing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said: "Perhaps nowhere in the world is the price of freedom so clear as here in Iraq."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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