Gunmen attack 2 envoys in Iraq

Diplomat from Bahrain injured

Pakistani escapes

July 06, 2005|By Richard C. Paddock | Richard C. Paddock,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Gunmen fired at vehicles carrying the chief envoys of Bahrain and Pakistan in separate attacks yesterday in what apparently is a campaign to intimidate nations from upgrading ties with Iraq.

The Bahraini diplomat, Hassan Ansari, was wounded in what his government said was an attempt to kidnap him. Pakistan's envoy escaped injury, but his Foreign Ministry said it would pull him out of Iraq until security here improves.

Yesterday's attacks came three days after Egypt's top diplomat was abducted from a Baghdad street. Al-Qaida's Iraqi branch claimed last night in a brief Internet statement that it had abducted the Egyptian envoy, Ihab al-Sherif.

An Iraqi official who asked not to be identified said al-Sherif might have been lured to the scene of the kidnapping in the hope of meeting with insurgent representatives.

All three envoys targeted in recent days represent Muslim nations. Chief Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said insurgents were targeting diplomats as part of a "psychological campaign" to keep other countries from establishing closer relations with Iraq's transitional government, which took over the war-torn nation in April.

The attacks were the rebels' response, he said, to a recent plea by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that more nations establish embassies in Iraq. Few countries, even some that have sent troops to Iraq, are represented in Baghdad by ambassadors, the highest level of diplomats. The United States has joined in pressing other nations to increase their representation in Iraq.

In June, Egypt became the first Arab nation since the ouster of Saddam Hussein to announce that it would send an ambassador to Baghdad. Al-Sherif arrived here less than a month before his abduction and was soon to assume the title of ambassador to Iraq.

Effective tactic

The insurgents' tactic appears to be working. Jordan's Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Imashar issued a statement in Amman that his country would not send an ambassador to Baghdad until Iraq could provide the "right security environment."

An average of 25 people a day have been killed in fighting and in attacks on civilians since late April, when al-Jaafari's government took power, according to data compiled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

The killing continued yesterday when a minibus transporting female workers to Baghdad International Airport was ambushed by masked gunmen on the notoriously dangerous road to the airport. Four women were killed and three injured.

A 13-year-old girl was killed in Samarra, north of Baghdad, when a mortar fired by insurgents missed a U.S. military base and hit her neighborhood.

A roadside bomb killed one U.S. soldier and wounded two others northeast of Baghdad. No further details were released.

In Baghdad, an explosive device went off near the Iranian Embassy as a U.S. military convoy passed by, injuring an Iraqi civilian. Authorities thought the blast was another attack on diplomats, but soon concluded the convoy was the target.

Envoy driving alone

Most dignitaries travel around Baghdad with armed bodyguards and at least one chase car. Many use armored vehicles. But like the kidnapped Egyptian diplomat, Bahraini envoy Hassan Ansari was driving alone when he was attacked.

Ansari was on his way to work in the morning when as many as four gunmen in a pickup truck fired on his vehicle near his home in the wealthy Mansour district.

Bullets struck his car and one hit him in the upper arm. How he managed to escape the gunmen is unclear, but he continued driving until he came to a traffic police officer and asked for help.

The official Bahrain News Agency reported that a Foreign Ministry official said the attack was "an attempt to kidnap him." Bahrain's information minister said Ansari would be flown home in a few days but said ties with Iraq would not be affected.

Bahrain is a U.S. ally and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which contributed to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is based in the tiny Persian Gulf state.

Hours after the attack on Ansari, gunmen in two cars began shooting at a convoy carrying Pakistan's top diplomat, Mohammed Younis Khan. Khan's bodyguards returned fire and the Pakistani vehicles escaped. The diplomat was not hurt.

In Pakistan, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Khan would immediately be withdrawn to Jordan until security in Iraq improved.

The Internet claim by al-Qaida in Iraq that it was holding the Egyptian envoy was the first public indication of al-Sherif's whereabouts since his disappearance Saturday evening.

"The Egyptian ambassador has been kidnapped by our mujahedeen and he is now under the control of our mujahedeen," said the statement signed by the group, Reuters reported. The Web site said it would provide more information later.

The organization is headed by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and is known for some of the most brutal acts of the war, including the videotaped beheadings of hostages.

U.S. spokesman Adam Hobson said the United States still wants nations to expand their diplomatic presence in Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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