Al-Qa'ida says it killed Egyptian for being 'ambassador of infidels'

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The Independent Online

The claim said: "We, al-Qa'ida in Iraq, announce that the judgement of God has been implemented against the ambassador of the infidels, the ambassador of Egypt. Oh enemy of God, Ihab al-Sherif, this is your punishment in this life."

The bloodthirsty rhetoric of the statement, posted on the internet, is in keeping with previous announcements by al-Qa'ida saying it had killed a hostage. A video showed a blindfolded Mr Sherif acknowledging who he was and adding that he had been deputy ambassador to Israel.

The aim of al-Qa'ida is to ensure Muslim countries do not upgrade their diplomatic representation in Iraq. Arab diplomats in Baghdad often moved about without bodyguards unlike their Western counterparts.

Although the government has deployed 40,000 police and paramilitary units to try to get greater control of Baghdad, a city of six million people, in "Operation Lightning''in recent days, there is little sign they are close to success.

In an ominous development the Interior Minister Bayan Jabr revealed yesterday at a press conference that eight officers "from the Eighth Armoured Brigade" had been arrested for planning to blow up the headquarters of the paramilitary police commandos. The officers - three of them lieutenant-colonels - were allegedly in touch with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq.

This is the most significant conspiracy against the Iraqi government yet discovered within its own security forces. Sunni and Shia leaders and the US have clashed over control of the Interior Ministry. Its senior officers were traditionally Sunni under Saddam Hussein, but Mr Jabr is a Shia and a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri). Many Sunni are convinced that he will appoint members of the Badr Brigade, Sciri's militia, as officers in important units.

The Sunnis, traditionally rulers of Iraq, are nervous at any sign of the Shia, some 60 per cent of the population, taking over powerful positions within the state in the wake of their election victory in January.

Mr Jabr claimed that security in Baghdad was improving. He said there had been 70 suicide bomb attacks in Baghdad in May, 40 in June and 10 so far in June.

Some 1,700 suspected insurgents had been detained and 31 killed. Questioned about widespread allegations of torture he admitted that "there might have been certain mistakes".

One diplomat said that while the violence in Iraq was no better or worse than the end of last year, "the real change in the situation is the increased sectarian hatred between Shia and Sunni in recent weeks".

A sign of the complexity of Iraqi politics is the signing of a military pact with Iran in Tehran yesterday under which Iran will provide military training and other co-operation to the country. The pact was signed by the Defence Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi on a visit to Iran. Asked if the agreement would anger the US, he said: "Nobody can dictate to Iraq its relations with other countries."

The US is now in the strange position of supporting a largely Shia government in which the most powerful party is Sciri, which fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war. The Badr Brigade was created by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is still allegedly under their influence.

The deepening divisions between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities are making it increasingly difficult for the government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari to function. "Many of the directors general of the ministries are trembling for their jobs because they do not want to be replaced by the new ministers," said one diplomat.