Jordan has become the first Arab state to send a fully accredited ambassador to Iraq, a major display of political support for the U.S.-backed government in the face of past kidnapping-slayings of Muslim diplomats.
The United States has long urged Iraq’s Arab neighbors to upgrade diplomatic relations to the ambassadorial level, rather than maintain missions headed by lesser-ranking diplomats, as an affirmation of support.
But the Arabs had been stalling due to violence and concern over the Shiite-led government’s dealings with the Sunni minority, which forms the foundation of Iraq’s insurgency, and the government’s ties to Shiite-dominated Iran.
Most Arab governments are led by Sunnis; the majority of Iraqis are Shiite.
Ambassador Ahmed al-Lozi presented his credentials Thursday to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a presidential statement said Friday. The German ambassador also presented his credentials.
Al-Lozi came to Baghdad with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit, who arrived Tuesday for a three-day visit.
Egypt agreed last year to send an ambassador, Ihab al-Sherif, but he was kidnapped in July 2005 and assassinated before presenting his credentials. Two Algerian diplomats were kidnapped in the same month and killed.
In October 2005, two Moroccan Embassy workers were abducted and killed. Two months later, Sudan closed its embassy in return for the release of six embassy employees who had been kidnapped.
Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for all the kidnappings and killing, and warned Arab and Muslim countries against establishing relations with Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government.
In March, however, Arab countries agreed to open diplomatic missions in Iraq after scathing criticism by Iraq’s foreign minister that they are not doing enough to help the wartorn nation.
2-day vehicle ban
Also Friday, the government ordered a two-day vehicle ban in the capital to guard against car bombs during weekend rallies commemorating the death of an 8th-century Shiite saint.
Seven Shiite pilgrims were shot dead late Friday as they walked through a Sunni neighborhood en route to the rally site, police said.
The ban went into effect Friday night and was expected to remain until Monday morning. A Cabinet statement said the ban would apply to about 16 neighborhoods. Later, however, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Musawi, spokesman of the armed forces general command, said the ban would apply citywide.
The Shiite ceremonies mark the death in 799 A.D. of Imam Moussa Kadhim, one of the 12 major Shiite saints.
About 1,000 people died during last year’s commemoration when rumors of suicide bombers triggered a mass stampede on a bridge across the Tigris River. It was the biggest single day death toll since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
The ceremonies are taking place during a major U.S.-Iraqi security operation aimed at curbing Sunni-Shiite violence, which threatens the stability of the new government of national unity.
U.S. commanders are sending nearly 12,000 U.S. and Iraqi reinforcements to take control of this city of 6.5 million people neighborhood by neighborhood.
3 death squad leaders jailed
American and Iraqi forces arrested three death squad leaders who were involved in the massacre of 41 Sunnis in Baghdad’s Jihad neighborhood last month, the U.S. military announced.
The three were arrested Friday in raids in the Rasheed district of south Baghdad, the statement said. One of the three was believed to have been the overall leader of the July 9 massacre, in which gunmen set up checkpoints, identified Sunnis, hauled them from cars and killed them.
Also Friday, soldiers from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team discovered a weapons cache in a warehouse in western Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Included were 583 mortar shells, 104 rocket-propelled grenades, 249 rockets, machine guns, automatic rifles, ammunition and bomb-making equipment, the military said. Two suspects were detained.
U.S. and Iraqi troops also raided an office of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and found three air-to-surface rockets, one rigged as a bomb, and two mortars, the U.S. said.
Iraqi police found 11 bodies with gunshot wounds — apparent victims of sectarian violence — in various places Friday.