BAGHDAD -- Gunmen seized two Algerian diplomats yesterday -- including the country's top envoy to Iraq -- in the latest attacks aimed at scaring away Muslim diplomats and undermining the US-backed Iraqi government.
The abductions brought to five the number of key diplomats from Islamic countries targeted in Baghdad in less than three weeks. The top Egyptian envoy was reportedly killed after being captured, and two apparent kidnapping attempts against diplomats were foiled.
The chief of Algeria's mission in Iraq, Ali Belaroussi, and another Algerian diplomat, Azzedine Ben Kadi, were dragged from their car along with their driver in west Baghdad's upscale Mansour district, police and Algerian officials said.
Belaroussi, a career diplomat, has been in Iraq for about two years, and served as financial director at Algeria's embassy in Paris from 1997 to 2002, Algerian officials said.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari pledged to increase security for diplomats but warned them to avoid going to dangerous areas. The Mansour district has been the site of a number of kidnappings, including that of Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong and Briton Kenneth Bigley. All three were later killed.
Deputy Interior Minister Ahmed Al-Khafaji told Al-Jazeera television that the Algerian envoy had refused Iraqi offers to provide him with bodyguards, saying he didn't need protection because ''Algeria's relationship with the Iraqis is good."
No group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the Algerians.
On July 2, Egyptian diplomat Ihab al-Sherif was seized at gunpoint in another western Baghdad neighborhood. Three days later, gunmen opened fire on senior envoys from Pakistan and Bahrain in what police said were kidnap attempts.
Al Qaeda's wing in Iraq, the country's most feared terrorist group, claimed responsibility online for kidnapping Sherif and later claimed to have killed him.
The militants want to seize ''as many ambassadors as we can" to punish governments that support Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government, according to Internet statements attributed to the group, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
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 websites.
Also yesterday, efforts to draft a new constitution by an Aug. 15 deadline suffered a setback when Sunni Arab committee members announced they would not participate until the government accepts demands that one Shi'ite official said are impossible to meet.
The constitution is considered crucial to putting together a broad-based government so the United States and its international partners can begin scaling back their military presence in Iraq next year.
Elsewhere, at least 17 people were killed in insurgent attacks, including two suicide car bombings against Iraqi security forces. The US command said an American sailor died of wounds suffered last week in Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad.
The death brought to at least 1,773 the number of US military members who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Sunni Arab members of a constitutional committee met to review their participation in the drafting of a new constitution -- a process they decided to boycott after two Sunnis helping to draft the charter were gunned down Tuesday.
The Sunnis decided to continue their boycott until an international inquiry is launched into the killings and Sunnis receive a greater voice in drafting the charter, said Kamal Hamdoun, one of the 12 remaining Sunni committee members.
A Shi'ite member of the constitutional commission, Hussein Athab, said the Sunni statement would make it more difficult to finish the constitution on time. The demands ''are impossible to be met and no one can accept them," Athab said.
In another potential stumbling block, Kurdish commission members submitted a proposal to include in the constitution an expansion of the Kurdish self-ruled region to as far south as Badra and Jassan, about 90 miles southeast of Baghdad, and would include oil-rich Kirkuk. Those changes would be unacceptable to many Sunni Arabs.