BAGHDAD,(AP)-Iraq”s most feared terror group said it killed two kidnapped Algerian diplomats because of Algeria”s ties to the United States and its crackdown on Islamic extremists.
As the bloodshed continued on Wednesday, the Bush administration sought to keep up political momentum by pressuring Iraq to complete its constitutional draft ahead of an August 15 deadline. "It”s time for a compromise," visiting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Iraqis.
The diplomats” deaths brought to three the number of foreign envoys reported killed this month as part of a militant campaign to isolate Iraq”s embattled government within the Arab and Muslim world. Two other apparent kidnapping attempts against diplomats were foiled. Algeria”s state radio broke into its programming to announce the killings. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called it "odious" and cowardly to murder envoys from countries that are friends of the Iraqi people, and vowed to pursue the killers.
Algeria opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, although it has in recent years become a close U.S. ally, particularly in investigating and arresting Islamic extremists. Al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, linked the killing of the diplomats to the Algerian crackdown.
Algeria”s chief envoy Ali Belaroussi and fellow diplomat Azzedine Belkadi were slain because their government represses Muslims "in violation of God”s will," said a chilling Internet statement posted in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The statement provided no photographic evidence of the deaths, and the statement”s authenticity could not be confirmed.
Belaroussi, 62, and Belkadi, 47, were dragged from their cars and kidnapped at gunpoint on July 21 in Baghdad”s upscale Mansour neighborhood. They appeared, blindfolded and in captivity, in a video posted on Tuesday on the Internet.
"Didn”t we warn you, O enemies of God, not to be loyal to the Jews and the Christians and to stand by the side of America or to carry out its plans? We are saying it again," said the al-Qaida statement which claimed the two had been put to death.
Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sherif, 51, was seized on July 2, and al-Qaida later claimed he had been killed, although no photos were made public and no body was found. Top envoys from Pakistan and Bahrain escaped kidnapping attempts a few days after al-Sherif disappeared.
More than 210 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq; at least 40 have been killed, including nine by al-Qaida in Iraq of other followers of al-Zarqawi.
The announced killings highlighted the perilous security situation more than two years after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. At least 15 Iraqi police, soldiers and civilians were slain nationwide on Wednesday in scattered attacks.
U.S. troops clamped a curfew on Samarra, 60 miles (96 kilometers)north of Baghdad, after a roadside bomb killed an American soldier and wounded five others, the U.S. command said.
At least 1,782 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Samarra, the site of some of Iraq”s most famous Islamic shrines, has been an insurgent flashpoint since Iraqi authorities lost control of the city to al-Qaida-linked extremists last year. U.S. troops recaptured the city and maintain tenuous control.
The Bush administration has been anxious to maintain political momentum, hoping a broad-based government can lure Sunni Arabs guerrillas away from the insurgency.
A key step in that strategy is a new constitution, which is to be completed by August 15, and presented to the voters in a referendum two months later. That would be followed by an election in December, and U.S. planners hope the start of a troop withdrawal next year. But progress toward a constitution hit another snag on Wednesday when a Kurdish leader insisted that Iraqi Kurds will never back down from demands for a federal state and never disband their Peshmerga militia. American officials have pressed the Iraqis to meet the deadline despite formidable differences over such issues as federalism and distribution of national wealth. Rumsfeld came to Baghdad to urge the Iraqis to finish the draft charter on time. "People are simply going to have to recognize that in any constitutional drafting process, compromise is necessary. It”s important. It”s understandable. It”s the way democratic systems work", he said.
But Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, repeated demands for the return of ethnic Kurds to the oil-rich Kirkuk area from which tens of thousands of them were expelled by Saddam.
"The Peshmergas will stay and there is no force that will be able to cancel them", Barzani also said. "It is impossible to back away from federalism". Preliminary drafts of the constitution call for disbanding all militias formed by Iraqi parties during their struggle against Saddam. The Kurds have long maintained the Peshmerga are not a militia but rather the security force of their autonomous Kurdish region in the north. It is unlikely that the Shiites and others would accept an end to their own militias if the Kurds are allowed to keep their Peshmerga fighters.