Iraqi Insurgents Step Up Attacks on Arab Diplomats In Baghdad, gunmen attack senior diplomats from Pakistan and Bahrain. Bahrain's top envoy in Bahgdad was slightly wounded -- while the head of the Pakistani mission escaped injury.
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Iraqi Insurgents Step Up Attacks on Arab Diplomats

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Iraqi Insurgents Step Up Attacks on Arab Diplomats

Iraqi Insurgents Step Up Attacks on Arab Diplomats

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Bahrain's envoy in Baghdad was attacked today, shot and slightly wounded as he headed for work. The shooting follows the weekend abduction of Egypt's top diplomat in Iraq. There's been no word on his fate since he was seized by gunmen as he stopped to buy a newspaper on a Baghdad street. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Novarro joins me now from Baghdad.

What about these attacks on Arab diplomats?

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

The first attack took place on Saturday when top Egyptian diplomat Ihad al-Sherif was snatched. Now he hadn't been officially named as ambassador, but the Iraqi government had said that Egypt was expected to be the first Arab state to name an ambassador to Iraq, and al-Sherif was going to be it.

Now today there was an attack on Hassan Al-Ansari, Bahrain's envoy here. That tiny gulf state is a close American ally and it's home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet. Gunmen opened fire on the envoy's car in the upscale neighborhood of Mansur. One of the bullets pierced his hand.

And this afternoon there was another attack on the Pakistani envoy in the same part of town, which is home to many embassies. His car was strafed with gunfire, but he was unharmed.

We spoke to Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Hameed al-Biyoni, about these attacks, and he said he believes this is a coordinated attempt to dissuade Arab and Muslim countries, that are mostly Sunni led, from giving legitimacy to the new government here. He said it was a matter of great concern. Arab countries have been reluctant to be seen as giving a stamp of approval to what many in the Arab world perceive as an American-installed government, but since the elections, with US pressure it has to be said, that line has been softening, which may be what has led to these attacks.

MONTAGNE: Now a Sunni organization has appealed to Iraq's Sunni minority to participate in future elections, following the boycott of last January's voting when Sunnis boycotted it, of course. Talk to us about that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what happened today is that the leader of the Sunni Endowment, Adnan al-Dulaimi, called for Sunnis to take part in the upcoming elections. The Sunni Endowment is a part of the government. It also has as its counterpart the Shia Endowment, and both bodies respectively oversee their communities in regards to the care of mosques and salaries of imans, etc. It's a very powerful position, but it is government linked. However, the announcement is a boost in the attempt to involve the Sunni community in the political process.

One of the members,though, of the hard-line Muslim Clerics Association, which holds a lot of sway here, condemned the call in an interview with the Arab satellite station al-Arabiya. So clearly, thera are still some major divisions in the Sunni community, which is very splintered, but the announcement by Adnan al-Dulaimi from the Sunni Endowment is seen as a very positive step.

MONTAGNE: And efforts continue to draft a new constitution. I mean, the deadline is approaching.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That deadline is August 15th, and there has been progress there, too. The committee that is responsible for drafting the constitution is going to meet tomorrow, and they'll have with them, after a lot of haggling, 15 new Sunnis who've been approved finally to join the committee. The inclusion of those Sunnis on the committee had been delayed up till now because a majority Shiites and Kurds had accused nominees of links to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. So there had been a lot of toing and froing on this issue, which was seen as very key to involve the Sunnis in the drafting of the constitution. But it seems it's been resolved now. They will begin starting tomorrow to address some of the really tough issues on the constitution, such as federalism, the status of Kirkuk, the role of women and religion. So that process is going to be started.

We were told by a senior American diplomat that, already, almost 60 percent if not 80 percent of the constitution has been agreed upon, but those last few sticking points are going to be tough.

MONTAGNE: And on another subject, Lourdes, you were just out with American troops looking for roadside bombs known as IEDs. What are they telling you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know, going out with soldiers--we were on the very, very dangerous airport road with a platoon that had already suffered three casualties due to IEDs, and they said that, you know, a lot of the press revolves around car bombs because they're very spectacular, a lot of people die in them but, in fact, the greatest threat to American forces here is the roadside bomb, and so what they've decided to do now is actually go on foot patrol down the airport road, which if you'll remember, is the scene of almost constant attacks. There was a car bomb there yesterday. There's shooting attacks and IED attacks there all the time. And they're actually going on foot on patrol, stopping traffic and looking for these roadside bombs. They think this is the most effective way to do that. It's also highly dangerous, but they say it's one of the most important things that they're doing here.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Baghdad.

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