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Iraq, Jordan at odds over border security

Envoys withdrawn for 'consultations'

BAGHDAD -- Iraq and Jordan engaged in a tit-for-tat withdrawal of ambassadors yesterday in a growing dispute over assertions by Shi'ite Muslims that Jordan is failing to block terrorists from entering Iraq. Meanwhile, US 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, US officials said. Six soldiers and seven militants were wounded.

The diplomatic row yesterday 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 Qaeda in Iraq organization claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed a top anticorruption official in northern Mosul. Zarqawi already has been sentenced to death twice by Jordan.

The events yesterday capped a week of rising tensions that included a protest in which Shi'ite demonstrators raised the Iraqi flag over the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad and contentions by the Shi'ite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance that Jordan is allowing terrorists to slip into Iraq.

''Iraqis are feeling very bitter over what happened," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. ''We decided, as the Iraqi government, to recall the Iraqi ambassador from Amman to discuss this."

Jordan acted first, when Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi announced that 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," Mulqi said.

Both countries said the officials were being recalled for ''consultations," leaving open the possibility for their return.

Shi'ites began holding protests after the Iraqi government last 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 Shi'ite police and army recruits.

The Jordanian daily newspaper Al-Ghad reported that Raed Mansour al-Banna carried out the attack, the single deadliest of the Iraqi insurgency. But the newspaper later issued a correction, saying it was not known where Banna carried out an assault.

Banna's family has denied his involvement in the Hillah attack, saying Banna carried out a different suicide bombing in Iraq, and Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for the Hillah bombing.

A military court sentenced 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 US targets, all in Iraq.

The two Jordanians allegedly met in Iraq in November 2003 to plan an assault on the embassy after a bombing of the same building in August killed 18 people. Zarqawi has also been accused in the August attack.

The United States has offered a $25 million reward for Zarqawi, who was previously sentenced to death twice in Jordan: once for the Oct. 28, 2002, killing of US diplomat Laurence Foley, and again for planning to attack US and Israeli targets during 1999 New Year's celebrations in the kingdom.

Also yesterday, 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 anticorruption department, officials said. Three others were injured.

Al Qaeda 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 so-called media coordinator, purportedly said in a message posted on an extremist Islamic website.

In other violence yesterday:

A homemade bomb exploded near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing a US soldier and injuring three others, the US military said in a statement. At least 1,520 members of the US 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 Major Sadoun Ahmed said.

In the southern city of Basra, attackers targeted a police patrol with a roadside bomb, killing a civilian and injuring a policeman, police Colonel Karim al-Zeidi said.

At a checkpoint on the outskirts of Baqubah, a car bomb injured 10 Iraqi soldiers and two civilians, police official Ahmed Mohammed said.

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