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2 Muslim diplomats attacked in Baghdad

Envoys thought targeted; 1 hurt

BAGHDAD -- Gunmen attacked two foreign diplomats yesterday in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign to kidnap or kill envoys from Muslim nations.

Hassan Malallah Ansari, the top-ranking diplomat at Bahrain's Baghdad mission, was shot and wounded yesterday morning when gunmen in a pickup truck tried to abduct him as he was driving alone in the capital's Mansour district, police said. In the afternoon, Pakistani Ambassador Mohammed Younis Khan escaped injury when gunmen in two cars fired on his convoy in the same neighborhood.

The two attacks followed on the heels of the disappearance and apparent kidnapping of Ihab Sherif, chief of Egypt's diplomatic mission in Baghdad. Last night, a message posted on an Internet forum said that Al Qaeda in Iraq was holding Sherif, who was last seen Saturday night and whose vehicle was found Saturday. The claim of responsibility could not be established.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Iraq's most influential Sunni Muslim religious group rejected appeals to support a religious decree calling for Sunnis to vote in Iraq's next election. Isam Rawi, spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, dismissed the edict announced Monday by Adnan Dulaimi, head of the government's Sunni affairs agency, because it sought to share political power on a factional basis. Rawi told al-Arabiya television that Dulaimi ''should have called for an Iraqi national gathering to include all the sides that oppose the current regime and its call for occupation forces to stay in Iraq for an indeterminate time."

Also yesterday, a US soldier was killed and two were wounded by a roadside bomb northeast of Baghdad, the US military said.

The attacks on diplomats drew quick denunciation from Iraqi officials, who have encouraged Arab nations and other Muslim countries to establish full diplomatic ties with the country's new government. Laith Kubba, chief spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said the incidents conveyed ''the message of terrorism."

''The mentality of the enemy is to move in the opposite direction" from that of Iraq's new leadership, Kubba said, ''and they realize that Iraq is moving to push for opening embassies." Sherif was scheduled to become Egypt's ambassador to Iraq, which would make him the first Arab ambassador accredited to Jaafari's government.

Ansari, the Bahraini envoy, suffered a bullet wound in his right shoulder when gunmen fired on his car, which was not armored and carried diplomatic license plates. The official Bahrain News Agency quoted Foreign Undersecretary Yousef Mahmoud as saying the attack on Ansari was ''an attempt to kidnap him."

After the attack on Khan yesterday afternoon, Pakistan immediately relocated him to Amman, the capital of neighboring Jordan. ''The decision has been taken because of a deterioration in the security situation. . . . We will review this decision when we detect any improvement in the security situation," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told Reuters.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday offered Egypt the help of the United States in trying to gain the release of Sherif.

In a telephone call to Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, ''she offered any help that we might make available to the Egyptian government," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He provided no details about what the United States might do to try to liberate the diplomat -- if Cairo asked.

''We, along with the Iraqi government, are concerned about the safety and well-being of any individual who is in Iraq to try to help the Iraqi people build a democratic, more prosperous, and stable country for themselves," McCormack said.

Russia's government also said that cars belonging to its Baghdad embassy were fired on yesterday along the dangerous road between the city and the international airport. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Moscow, however, said it did not appear that the gunfire was directed at the Russian vehicles, according to news services. And a roadside bomb exploded 50 yards from the Iranian Embassy, but a witness said the explosion appeared to have been timed to strike a US military convoy.

In other violence, four Iraqi women were killed on their way to work at Baghdad's airport. Gunmen in the Amiriya neighborhood fired on a private minibus that was carrying several airport workers. One of the slain women said before she died that ''they were tailing us," said Alaa Sadiq, 39, who works in the airport's administrative office.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, said meanwhile that his group had formed a new armed wing to fight the Shi'ite militia Badr Brigade, according to an audiotape attributed to him and posted on the Internet yesterday.

''We in Al Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq announce the formation of a military brigade named Omar Brigade, to cut off the symbols and factions of the treacherous Badr Brigade," said the voice on the audiotape.

Hadi al-Amery, the leader of Badr Brigade, a powerful Shi'ite militia that fought Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran, has denied running hit squads against Sunnis and said peaceful politics was the only way forward for his group.

Efforts to bring more Sunni Arabs into Iraq's political process, meanwhile, appeared to take simultaneous steps in opposite directions. The rejection by the Association of Muslim Scholars of the prospective religious decree was a sharp blow to an initiative aimed at increasing political participation and drawing Sunnis away from the insurgency. At the same time, however, the head of the National Assembly's constitution committee said yesterday that he believed a draft document will be completed before an Aug. 15 deadline now that 15 Sunni Arabs have been added to the panel.

''We hope that the participation of the other brothers, who did not take part in the political process, will not to be an obstacle in the way or a reason to delay the completion of the constitution," Humam Hammoudi said at a news conference. ''That is why in yesterday's meeting, we decided to have intensive, wide, and serious meetings to avoid disagreements that may happen among us or among the brothers."

Hammoudi said that much of the draft has already been agreed on by the original 55 members of the committee, which included only two Sunni Arabs when it was formed in April.

Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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