Gunmen killed a high-ranking Iranian diplomat in Baghdad Thursday, but it was unclear whether the killing was linked to Iranian efforts to mediate between U.S. forces and a radical Shiite cleric.
Khalil Naimi, the first secretary of the Iranian Embassy, was shot in the head while he was in his car near the embassy, Foreign Ministry official Mohammad Nouri told The Associated Press in Tehran.
The killing came as a senior Iranian envoy visited Iraq to try to mediate an end to the U.S. standoff with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Asked whether the killing was linked to the envoy’s visit, a embassy official said on condition of anonymity, “There is some speculation, but we do not have a clear idea.”
The hood of the Naimi’s car was crumpled and bullet holes pockmarked the windshield. The diplomat’s car had diplomatic plates but no symbols on it suggesting it was Iranian.
Earlier in the day, an delegation headed by senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hussein Sedeqi headed to the southern city of Najaf and held talks with al-Sadr, whom U.S. forces have vowed to capture.
The mediation by the Iranians, as well as other negotiations by an Iraqi Shiite political party, aim to find a resolution that will ward off a U.S. attack on Najaf — the holiest Shiite city.