Middle East: Iraqi envoy and seven others murdered in Jordan

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The Independent Online
Iraq's charge d'affaires in Jordan and seven other people, including his wife, were stabbed to death in Amman early yesterday. The identity of the attackers and their motive is not known. Patrick Cockburn reports on the increasingly violent relations between Jordan and Iraq.

The Iraqi diplomat, Hikmat al-Hajou, the charge at the Iraqi embassy in Amman, was killed with his Egyptian-born wife, a number of Iraqi businessmen and an Egyptian bodyguard in a wealthy suburb of the Jordanian capital early yesterday morning. First reports said they were stabbed. A woman who survived is being treated for knife wounds.

The identity of the attackers is not known, although the survivor said there were four or five and they spoke Arabic with Iraqi accents. The Iraqi foreign ministry condemned the "treacherous crime carried out last night in Amman." It said it was sending a diplomat and a general from the security forces to Amman to investigate.

The murders come after violent incidents which have led to tension between Amman and Baghdad. Last month Iraqi security intercepted a letter from Jordan to Maj-Gen Talib al-Sadoun, one of the Iraqi military establishment, which it saw as evidence of a plot. In retaliation President Saddam Hussein executed four Jordanian students under arrest in Iraq for small-scale smuggling. On 3 January shots were fired at an Iraqi diplomat in Amman but he was not hit.

Mr Hajou served in Kuwait just before the Iraqi invasion in 1990, where he worked also for the mukhabarat, the Iraqi general intelligence service. More recently the regime is said to have had doubts about his loyalty. Jordanian officials were eager to portray the killings as an inter-Iraqi feud.

The attack took place at the two-storey villa of an Iraqi businessman, Sami George, in West Amman.

Several of the others who died were Iraqi businessmen of Turkoman origin from the city of Kirkuk in north-eastern Iraq. It is possible the attack was the result of a commercial dispute over the lucrative import trade into Iraq.

Nevertheless, Iraqi business has not provoked such savage killings in the past. It is not inconceivable that Iraqi security itself might have acted against Mr Hajou.

The murders appear to be part of a trend for diplomatic friction between Iraq and Jordan, once close allies, to turn to violence.