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Iraq urges diplomats to stay despite threats

1 US soldier killed, 6 injured in attacks

BAGHDAD -- Iraq appealed to its global partners yesterday to defy Al Qaeda's ''blackmail" and keep their diplomats in Baghdad despite the reported slaying of Egypt's top envoy and threats against those who support the US-backed administration.

A US commander acknowledged more needs to be done to protect foreign diplomats and ''we've got to do something very quickly."

Elsewhere, one American soldier was killed and six were wounded in separate insurgent attacks north and south of the Iraqi capital.

Iraqi officials have become concerned about diplomats possibly leaving Baghdad after a website claim Thursday by Al Qaeda in Iraq that it had killed Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sherif, who was seized by up to eight gunmen on a street in western Baghdad last weekend.

Egyptian and Iraqi officials said Egypt would temporarily close its mission in Iraq and recall its staff -- although Sherif's body has not been found and the online statement contained no photographic evidence of his death.

Ambassador Mohammed Younis Khan of Pakistan left the country Wednesday after his convoy was fired on in a kidnap attempt. Bahrain's top envoy, Hassan Malallah al-Ansari, was expected to leave soon after he was slightly wounded in a separate attempt.

In its online statement, the country's most feared terrorist group said it wanted to seize ''as many ambassadors as we can" to punish governments that support Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government.

Those threats by a group responsible for numerous kidnappings, car bombings, and beheadings could undermine US efforts to encourage regional acceptance for the new Iraqi government by neighboring countries, whose populations strongly oppose the American military presence here.

''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," chief government spokesman Laith Kubba said. ''Giving in to these groups and responding to their political demands means encouraging them to continue such actions."

Kubba said he was certain that Iraqi and US authorities could protect embassies and their staffs. Sherif had no bodyguards when he was seized after stopping to buy a newspaper in a dangerous neighborhood, witnesses said. Most foreign embassies have their own security to bolster guards provided by Iraq.

Major General William G. Webster Jr., commander of the Third Infantry Division, acknowledged the new threat against diplomats and said American authorities were studying ways to improve security.

''We recognize that all of our forces must be available to help protect our international diplomats who are helping to begin relations with this new democratic government," Webster told reporters at the Pentagon by television link from Baghdad. ''We've not finalized our plan yet, but we certainly recognize we've got to do something very quickly."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the attacks would not deter the United States, Egypt, and other governments ''from working together to build a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq."

Casey also said the United States would work with the Iraqi government and security officials ''to bring those responsible" for the Egyptian diplomat's death to justice and to ''eliminate the network behind them."

Rajab Sukayri, a spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said Jordan still planned to send an ambassador to Iraq despite the Al Qaeda threat and the selection process ''is being sped up."

Meanwhile, violence continued outside the capital. A roadside bomb killed a US soldier and wounded three yesterday in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. Separately, a roadside bomb and small arms fire wounded three US soldiers in an attack on a coalition convoy 25 miles south of Baghdad, the Polish military said. A suicide car bomber also struck an Iraqi Army convoy in Fallujah, witnesses said. Police had no details.

Shi'ite and Sunni clerics joined yesterday in condemning attacks on diplomats.

''We reject any attack against any diplomat because attacking the diplomats is an act that doesn't serve our cause," Sheik Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarie of the Association of Muslim Scholars said at Baghdad's Um al-Qura mosque during Friday prayers.

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