Image: Belaroussi and Belkadi
AP file
Ali Belaroussi (left) and Azzedine Belkadi were abducted in Baghdad Thursday as part of an attempt to scare off Muslim governments from supporting the U.S.-backed Iraqi adminstration. Belaroussi and Belkadi are the first Algerians adducted in Iraq.
updated 7/21/2005 3:45:15 PM ET 2005-07-21T19:45:15

Two Algerian diplomats and their driver were dragged from their car by gunmen Thursday in Baghdad in the latest abductions apparently aimed at scaring off Muslim governments supporting the U.S.-backed Iraqi administration.

Gunmen in two cars stopped the vehicle carrying charge d'affaires Ali Belaroussi and another diplomat near the al-Sa'a restaurant in the upscale Mansour district, which is home to many embassies, and took the men away, police officials said.

Algeria's Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed the Thursday morning abduction, saying Belaroussi and diplomat Azzedine Belkadi had been kidnapped between the Algerian embassy and the embassy residence in Baghdad.

First abduction of Algerians in Iraq
The ministry said it had contacted the men's families and was following developments closely. It is the first abduction of Algerians in Iraq.

The attack came more than two weeks after gunmen ambushed three other top diplomats from Muslim countries in western Baghdad, all in apparent bids to scare off foreign governments and isolate Iraq from the Arab world.

Insurgent attacks elsewhere, including two suicide bombings aimed at the Iraqi army, killed at least 15 people, officials said.

Also Thursday, a U.S. sailor assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force died of wounds from a July 15 bombing in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

At least 1,773 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, complained that he has not been allowed sufficient access to his lawyer in a new tape aired on Thursday by Dubai-based Al Arabiya.

First video of Saddam since criminal case released
Though video showing the former Iraqi leader has been released in the past, this was the first time he has been seen since the Iraqi Special Tribunal filed its first criminal case against him on Sunday.

Saddam and three other top officials are accused of involvement in the July 1982 massacre of an estimated 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail, in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt on him.

In political developments, Sunni Arabs decided to continue boycotting the committee drafting Iraq's new constitution, casting doubt on whether the group can meet a mid-August deadline to complete its work.

Kamal Hamdoun, one of the 12 remaining Sunnis appointed to the constitutional commission last month, said representatives of the minority wanted an international investigation into assassinations of two colleagues Tuesday and a greater role in drafting the constitution.

He also demanded that the chairman of the committee, Shiite cleric Humam Hammoudi, withdraw a statement made Wednesday that the final draft would be finished by the end of the month.

"Our decision is to go on with suspending our participation until our conditions are met," Hamdoun told The Associated Press.

Even if the Shiite and Kurdish committee members decided to try to meet the Aug. 15 deadline without Sunni participation, questions would be raised over the legitimacy of a charter and whether it would win Sunni approval in an October referendum.

Fifteen Sunnis were appointed to the parliamentary committee last month in a move to lure many in the influential minority away from the insurgency.

Two members resigned under rebel threats, and two prominent Sunnis — committee member Mijbil Issa and adviser Dhamin Hussein al-Obeidi — were assassinated in front of a Baghdad restaurant two days ago — prompting other Sunnis to suspend participation in the drafting process.

Hamdoun said there were no plans to name a replacement on the committee for Issa, a law professor from Kirkuk, until all the Sunni demands are met.

Kurdish leaders also have presented a redrawn map with a larger Kurdistan to the Iraqi National Assembly for consideration in the new constitution, Mullah Bakhtiyar, a senior official with the Kurdish Democratic Party, said Thursday.

The map reflected long-standing Kurdish claims that stretches their territory south toward the capital of Baghdad — well beyond the boundaries of the current Kurdish autonomous area. But the demand was unlikely to be well-received by Sunnis and Shiites on the constitutional commission and could further complicate efforts to complete the draft charter on time.

The United States has been pressing for Iraq's parliament to approve the new constitution on time so it can be submitted to a national referendum two months later. If the charter is approved, then a new election for a fully constitutional government will be held in mid-December.

Change in government could mean less U.S. troops
A broad-based constitutional government could enable the United States and its international partners to begin scaling back their military presence in Iraq next year.

Sunni Arabs constitute about 20 percent of Iraq's 27 million people but form a majority in several provinces including Anbar, Salahuddin and Nineveh and are the driving force behind the relentless insurgency.

Earlier this month, insurgents claimed to have abducted and killed the Egyptian top envoy, Ihab al-Sherif. Bahrain's top envoy was slightly wounded and Pakistan's ambassador escaped injury in separate attacks that were claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq.

Iraq's most feared terror group has threatened to seize "as many ambassadors as we can" to punish governments that support Iraq's Shiite-dominated government.

A total of 49 countries or entities have some form of diplomatic representation in Iraq, including 18 Arab or non-Arab Muslim countries, according to Iraq's Foreign Ministry and country Web sites.

In violence Thursday, a suicide car bomber rammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint, killing six soldiers and wounding 13 in Mahmoudiyah, about 20 miles south of the capital, army Lt. Odai al-Zeiadi said.

An Iraqi army checkpoint in southern Baghdad also was hit by a suicide car bomber, killing one soldier and wounding six, al-Zeiadi said.

In other developments Thursday:

  • Three members of the Qadisiyah provincial council were shot to death by gunmen in western Baghdad.
  • A Ministry of Trade employee was killed in a drive-by shooting in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in the capital.
  • Explosives were thrown into the compound of a British security firm in Baghdad's western Yarmouk area, killing one Iraqi guard and wounding two others.
  • A roadside bomb hit an Iraqi patrol in Latifiyah, killing three soldiers and wounding another three.
  • The U.S. military said seven Iraqi police were killed and one was wounded when their patrol was ambushed Wednesday in the northern city of Mosul.
  • The Iraqi government said 11 suspects were detained in Mosul in the past 24 hours, including one Libyan citizen, "proven to be a terrorist," who arrived four days ago.

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