Al-Qaida in Iraq said in a web posting today that it had killed Egypt’s top envoy in Iraq, showing a video of the blindfolded diplomat identifying himself. The video did not show his death.
A statement purportedly from al-Qaida said it delayed claiming responsibility for the Saturday abduction of Ihab al-Sherif “to be able to capture as many ambassadors as we can”.
The claim of responsibility was posted on Tuesday following kidnap attempts against top diplomats from Pakistan and Bahrain in a campaign to isolate Iraq’s US-backed government in the Arab and Muslim world.
“We announce in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq that the verdict of God against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of Egypt, has been carried out. Thank God,” a written statement in the web posting said.
The video showed al-Sherif blindfolded and wearing a polo shirt. He identified himself as the head of Egypt’s mission in Iraq and said he worked previously in Israel, where Egypt maintains an embassy.
However, the tape did not show al-Sherif’s death. Previous al-Qaida tapes did show hooded men killing their captives.
If the claim to have assassinated al-Sherif is true, it would mark a dramatic escalation in a campaign to discourage Arab and Muslim governments from sending ambassadors and strengthening ties with Iraq, as Washington wants. Iraqi officials have called on other countries to stay the course and keep their diplomats in Baghdad.
Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, referred to explosions against transport facilities in London today, adding this “confirms that terrorism in not only targeting Iraqis but everyone”.
Al-Sherif, 51, was seized in a western Baghdad neighbourhood as he stopped to buy a newspaper, witnesses said. He was not accompanied by any security.
Elsewhere, Iraq’s president called for national unity today as mortar attacks killed four civilians in the northern city of Mosul and police opened fire on demonstrators in Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tikrit, wounding four.
President Jalal Talabani addressed hundreds of Shiite clerics today at a constitutional conference in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad.
“Drafting the constitution, God-willing, will be done on schedule and I am confident about co-operation” between Shiite and Kurdish legislators to do the job, Talabani said.
Talabani, a long-time Kurdish leader, added that all Iraqis will participate in drafting the constitution including representatives from the Sunni Arab community, whose members boycotted January’s general elections and now make up the core of violent insurgency.
A parliamentary committee writing Iraq’s new charter should finish the draft by August 15 so it can be ready for a referendum two months later. A new constitution must be ratified before elections in December.
In fresh violence, mortar attacks aimed at a police station killed four civilians and wounded up to 46 more after striking surrounding streets in Mosul, the US military said.
In Tikrit, police opened fire on 1,000 demonstrators today at the seat of the provincial government as they were protesting the killing of the local council’s head official, authorities said. At least four were wounded.
The protesters demanded the resignation of the deputy governor and police chief because they believe their clan was responsible for yesterday’s killing of Ali Ghalib Ibrahim, who belongs to a rival clan, Mayor Wael Ibrahim Ali said.
Ibrahim, who headed Salahuddin’s provincial council, was killed while driving in Tikrit, the province's capital, 80 miles north of Baghdad.
“He was fighting the corruption in the city council and that’s why they assassinated him,” Ali said during the demonstration.
Police guarding the provincial government building first fired warning shots into the air followed by volleys into the crowd, police Lt Khudhir Ali said. The four wounded including a policemen, but it was not clear how he was shot, he said.
A new terror command announced this week purportedly by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to target a Shiite militia claimed responsibility for its first operation today - the killing of a Shiite in south Baghdad.
“Your brothers in the Omar Corps, which belongs to the al Qaida in Iraq, yesterday assassinated a leading member in the corps of treason, the Badr Corps in Doura,” a statement posted on an al-Qaida-linked website said.
In an audiotape found yesterday on the same site, a speaker claiming to be al-Zarqawi announced formation of the Omar Corps to “eradicate” the Badr Brigade. Al-Zarqawi’s group has been targeting Shiites, who dominate Iraq’s government, in a bid to trigger civil war.
Separately, five decapitated bodies were found today on a road in north-western Iraq, police said.
The bodies were dressed in civilian clothes and found on the road between Rawah and Ramadi, police Maj Hashim Mohammed said.
Rawah is located 122 miles north-west of Ramadi, the capital of rebel-infested Anbar province.
More than 1,465 people have been killed in insurgent attacks since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his new Shiite-led government on April 28.