BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq urged the world’s nations Friday to refuse to be “subjected to blackmail” and keep their diplomatic missions in the country despite a claim by an al-Qaida wing that it killed Egypt’s top envoy.
Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in a Web posting Thursday that it had killed the Egyptian diplomat, Ihab al-Sherif, who was kidnapped last weekend. It warned it would go after “as many ambassadors as we can” to punish countries that support Iraq’s U.S.-backed leadership.
Saad Mohammed Ridha, the head of Iraq’s diplomatic mission in Cairo, told The Associated Press that Egypt’s foreign ministry informed him late Thursday that the mission would close temporarily and the staff was recalled.
An Egyptian official in Cairo also said Egypt would temporarily close its mission in Iraq and has recalled its staff — although there was no sign Friday that any of the Egyptians were leaving.
Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said he hadn’t been informed that Egypt intended to recall its diplomats, but urged other countries not to be intimidated.
“If the rest of the diplomatic missions from Europe and the neighboring countries give in, this means that all the capitals of the world will be subjected to blackmail,” Kubba said Friday.
Egypt confirms diplomat's death
The announcement from Iraq’s most feared terror group appeared on an al-Qaida-linked Web site and featured a brief video showing al-Sherif, wearing a polo shirt. The video did not show his death, but the statement promised more details later. Al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, normally releases videos of its victims’ deaths.
The Iraqi foreign ministry offered condolences for the “assassination” and an Egyptian diplomat who spoke to Egyptian reporters in Cairo said the government was sure al-Sherif was dead “from our own means.” He spoke on condition of anonymity and did not elaborate.
News of the killing marked a dramatic escalation in a campaign to discourage Arab and Muslim governments from sending ambassadors and strengthening ties with Iraq, as Washington wants. Last month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that Egypt would be the first Arab country to upgrade its diplomatic representation by appointing a full-fledged ambassador.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak insisted his country will continue to support Iraq.
“This terrorist act will not deter Egypt from its firm position in support of Iraq and its people,” the statement said. Al-Sherif “lost his life at the hands of terrorism that trades in Islam but knows no nation and no religion.”
Attacks on Pakistani, Bahraini envoys
Al-Sherif, 51, was seized Saturday in Baghdad. Three days later, gunmen fired on senior envoys from Pakistan and Bahrain, two Muslim nations with close ties to the United States, in apparent kidnap attempts.
In its latest statement, al-Qaida said it did not announce al-Sherif’s kidnapping until after the subsequent attacks “to be able to capture as many ambassadors as we can.”
Iraqi officials, meanwhile, sought to assure foreign governments that their diplomats would be safe. Officials said al-Sherif, a former deputy ambassador to Israel, was grabbed in a dangerous neighborhood while traveling without armed escorts.
Egypt’s U.N. ambassador asked the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to urgently address the issue of protecting diplomats in Iraq. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said the council should address the issue “in a manner which would secure the lives of those diplomats, not only of Egypt but of other countries who have been subject to such brutal attacks in the past few days.”
Speaking in Amman, Jordan, former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi urged the United States to produce a roadmap to end the crisis in Iraq, and warned in comments published Friday that the deteriorating situation could impact neighboring countries.
“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the concept of national unity will weaken,” Allawi said. “This will have a great impact on Iraq and will move to the neighboring countries, Europe and America,” he said.
He also called for intensifying dialogue with opposition groups in Iraq.
Allawi has been a strong opponent of the Iraqi government’s de-Baathification policy, designed to weed out remnants of the former regime still working within the ranks. He has repeatedly warned against the policy, saying it would only cause greater fragmentation among Iraqis — mainly Sunnis — who are disenchanted with the new regime.
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