Iraq and Jordan engaged in a tit-for-tat withdrawal of ambassadors Sunday in a growing dispute over Shiite Muslim claims that Jordan is failing to block terrorists from entering Iraq, while U.S. forces killed 24 insurgents in a clash south of Baghdad.
An American convoy was traveling through the Salman Pak area, 20 miles southeast of Baghdad, when it was attacked, U.S. officials said. Six soldiers and seven militants were wounded.
Sunday’s diplomatic row erupted even as a Jordanian court sentenced in absentia Iraq’s most feared terrorist — who was born in Jordan — to a 15-year prison term.
As news emerged of the largely symbolic sentencing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose whereabouts are unknown, his al-Qaida in Iraq organization claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed a top anti-corruption official in northern Mosul. Al-Zarqawi already has been sentenced to death twice by Jordan.
Sunday’s events capped a week of rising tensions that included a protest in which Shiite demonstrators raised the Iraqi flag over the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad and claims by the Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance that Jordan was allowing terrorists to slip into Iraq.
“Iraqis are feeling very bitter over what happened. We decided, as the Iraqi government, to recall the Iraqi ambassador from Amman to discuss this,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press.
Jordan acted first, when Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi announced his charge d’affaires in Baghdad had been recalled to Amman.
“We are hoping that the Iraqi police will devise a plan to protect the embassy,” al-Mulqi said. “Meanwhile, we have asked the charge d’affaires to come back because he was living in the embassy.”
He added that other Jordanian diplomats will remain in Baghdad because they do not live in the embassy compound.
Home for ‘consultations’
Both countries said the officials were being recalled for “consultations,” leaving open the possibility for their return.
Shiites began holding protests after the Iraqi government on Monday condemned celebrations allegedly held by the family of a Jordanian man suspected of carrying out a Feb. 28 terrorist attack that killed 125 people in Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad. Nearly all the victims were Shiite police and army recruits.
The Jordanian daily Al-Ghad reported that Raed Mansour al-Banna carried out the attack, the single deadliest of the Iraqi insurgency. The newspaper later issued a correction, however, saying it was not known where al-Banna carried out an assault.
Al-Banna’s family has denied his involvement in the Hillah attack, saying al-Banna carried out a different suicide bombing in Iraq, and Al-Zarqawi’s group claimed responsibility for the Hillah bombing.
A military court sentenced al-Zarqawi to 15 years in jail and imprisoned an associate for three years for planning an attack on the Jordanian Embassy, the offices of the Jordanian military attache, and unspecified American targets, all in Iraq.
The two Jordanians allegedly met in Iraq in November 2003 to plan an assault on the embassy after an August bombing of the same building killed 18 people. Al-Zarqawi has also been accused in the August attack.
The United States has issued a $25 million reward for al-Zarqawi, who was previously sentenced to death twice in Jordan: once for the Oct. 28, 2002, killing of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley, and again for planning to attack U.S. and Israeli targets during 1999 New Year’s celebrations in the kingdom.
‘No. 1 American agent’
Also Sunday, in Iraq’s north, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a government compound in Mosul, killing himself and Walid Kashmoula, the head of the Iraqi police anti-corruption department, officials said. Three others were injured. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The renegade Walid Kashmoula has been assassinated by a martyrdom operation, thanks to God, and he is the No. 1 American agent in Mosul,” Abu Maysara al-Iraqi, the group’s designated “media coordinator,” purportedly said in a message posted on an extremist Islamic Web site.
In other violence Sunday:
- A U.S. soldier has been killed in action in Iraq’s western Al Anbar province, the U.S. military said on Monday. The soldier, who was deployed with the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, died on Sunday, the military said in a statement. It gave few details on grounds that information could help guerrillas and put U.S. troops at greater risk.
- A homemade bomb exploded near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing a U.S. soldier and injuring three others, the U.S. military said in a statement. At least 1,520 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count.
- In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, militants jumped out of their car and opened fire on a policeman walking to work, police Maj. Sadoun Ahmed said. Police who went to collect the man’s body also came under attack, prompting a gunfight that left three police and three of the attackers injured. Lt. Qassim Mohammed said the injured assailants were captured.
- In the southern city of Basra, attackers targeted a police patrol with a roadside bomb, killing one civilian and injuring a policeman, police Col. Karim al-Zeidi said.
- Insurgents lobbed mortar rounds into a neighborhood just outside the walls of an Iraqi army base in Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad, killing one civilian and injuring two others, said Ikbal Sabir, an official at the Yarmouk Hospital where the victims were taken.
- At a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baqouba, a car bomb injured 10 Iraqi soldiers and two civilians, police official Ahmed Mohammed said. The U.S. military said 12 Iraqi soldiers were injured in the blast. Insurgents followed up the attack with small arms and rocket-propelled grenade-fire, and three insurgents were killed in ensuing clashes, the U.S. military said.