Bahraini envoy shot as new offensive is launched against Islamic allies

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The Independent Online

Two carloads of gunmen kidnapped the senior Egyptian diplomat in Baghdad, Ihab al-Sherif, at the weekend, bundling him into the boot of a car, shouting that he was an American spy.

Hassan Mallalah al-Ansari, the senior Bahraini diplomat, was hit in the shoulder by a bullet yesterday when gunmen tried to kidnap him as he was being driven from his home to his embassy in the al-Mansur district. He was later released from hospital.

"The aim is to create a state of fear," said Laith Kubba, a government spokesman. The kidnapping "was an attempt to scare the other diplomatic missions so that they won't expand their presence in Iraq."

Insurgents also opened fire on the convoy of Mohammed Younis, the Pakistani ambassador, as he was on his way to work. He was not injured but is to be withdrawn temporarily from Iraq.

Most of the embassies in Iraq have minimum staff or have withdrawn into the safer Green Zone where they have limited contact with ordinary Iraqis.

The insurgents have always given high priority to isolating the Iraqi government by attacking foreign embassies and foreign NGOs. One of the first big bomb attacks in Baghdad was against the Jordanian embassy in August 2003 and this was followed by the destruction of the UN headquarters and the main Red Cross building.

The interim Iraqi government, backed by the US, has hoped to bolster its international legitimacy by getting Arab embassies to raise their representation to ambassadorial level. Egypt was the first Arab state to agree to do this last month.

The failure of the US to gain control of the crucial seven-mile road linking Baghdad international airport with the centre of the city was underlined yesterday when gunmen riddled a minibus carrying airport employees. They shot dead four women and three men during an attack near the Amariyah crossroads in western Baghdad.

The US is trying to build up a new Iraqi army but insurgents are still able to attack all parts of Baghdad. A total of 1,400 people have have been killed since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari formed his new government on 28 April.

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