Iraq doesn’t want diplomats to leave

A surge of violence against diplomats posed into question any diplomatic activity in Iraq. Nevertheless, Iraqi officials urge the world's nations Friday not to be "subjected to blackmail" and keep their diplomatic missions in the country despite a claim by an al-Qaida wing that it killed Egypt's top envoy. U.S. top military officials say security must be improved for diplomats in Iraq, and Russia says, its mission in Baghdad has been taking additional security measures, which means Russia has no plans to pull its diplomats out of Iraq.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed Thursday in a Web posting that it had killed the Egyptian diplomat, Ihab al-Sherif, and warned it would go after "as many ambassadors as we can" to punish countries that support Iraq's U.S.-backed leadership.

Saad Mohammed Ridha, the head of Iraq's diplomatic mission in Cairo, told The Associated Press that Egypt's foreign ministry informed him late Thursday that the mission would close temporarily and the staff was recalled, says the AP.

An Egyptian official in Cairo also said Egypt would temporarily close its mission in Iraq and has recalled its staff - although there was no sign Friday that any of the Egyptians were leaving.

Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said he hadn't been informed that Egypt intended to recall its diplomats, but urged other countries not to be intimidated.

"If the rest of the diplomatic missions from Europe and the neighboring countries give in, this means that all the capitals of the world will be subjected to blackmail," Kubba said Friday.

Shiite and Sunni clerics, speaking at Friday prayers, condemned al-Sherif's killing.

"We reject any attack against any diplomat because attacking the diplomats is an act that doesn't serve our cause," said Sheik Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarie of the Association of Muslim Scholars at Baghdad's Um al-Qura mosque during Friday prayers.

Diplomatic sources, cited by Financial Times, said Egypt’s envoy was possibly killed in response to reports that he was set to become the first full-ranking Arab ambassador to the Iraqi government, offering much-needed support to a regime held in deep suspicion in the Arab world because of its dependence on US military backing. Egypt is the largest and traditionally most powerful Arab state.

The Iraqi foreign ministry offered condolences for the "assassination" and an Egyptian diplomat who spoke to Egyptian reporters in Cairo said the government was sure al-Sherif was dead "from our own means." He spoke on condition of anonymity and did not elaborate.

The top U.S. commander in Baghdad said Friday he saw an urgent need to improve security for foreign diplomats in the Iraqi capital.

Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr. spoke to Pentagon reporters via videoconference from Baghdad one day after an al-Qaida wing claimed it had killed Egyptian diplomat Ihab al-Sherif.

Webster said al-Sherif's body has not been found.

"We have not found his body and at this point we don't have any leads, but we are working hard to help the Iraqi security forces determine what happened and where that happened and to get to the bottom of it by capturing or killing those who were responsible," Webster said.

Iraqi officials, meanwhile, sought to assure foreign governments that their diplomats would be safe. Officials said al-Sherif, a former deputy ambassador to Israel, was grabbed in a dangerous neighborhood while traveling without armed escorts.

At the same time, the government's chief spokesman said Friday that Islamic extremists have been using Iraq as a planning center for attacks around the world since losing Afghanistan as their base in 2001, which, of course, doesn’t add stability in the country.

Speaking about Thursday's blasts in London that killed more than 75 people, Laith Kubba said "we don't know exactly who carried out these acts but it is clear that these networks used to be in Afghanistan and now they work in Iraq."

The spokesman said that insurgents in Iraq and those who carried out the London attacks "are from the same network. There are different groups in the world, but they all follow the same school."

Kubba was referring to hardline Muslim extremists who label people that don't agree with them as infidels.

"We don't know exactly who enters Iraq then leaves to carry out attacks with explosives around the world," he told The Associated Press.

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