Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Iraq, Jordan recall envoys after attacks

DIPLOMATIC ROWBoth countries withdrew their ambassadors after Jordan was accused of letting terrorists sneak into Iraq

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraqi women buy fish on Mother's Day in central Baghdad yesterday. Iraqi shops still close early amid tight security as insurgents keep up their deadly campaign against Iraq's fledgling security, two years after the war that toppled former leader Saddam Hussein. In the latest clashes, US forces killed 24 suspected insurgents on Sunday after they were attacked in the Salman Pak area southeast of Baghdad, officials said.

PHOTO: EPA

Iraq and Jordan engaged in a tit-for-tat withdrawal of ambassadors in a growing dispute over Shiite Muslim claims that Jordan is failing to block terrorists from entering Iraq, while US forces killed 24 suspected insurgents in a clash south of Baghdad.

A US convoy was traveling through the Salman Pak area, 30km southeast of Baghdad, when it was attacked late Sunday, US officials said. Six soldiers and seven militants were wounded.

Sunday's diplomatic row erupted even as a Jordanian court sentenced in absentia Iraq's most feared terrorist -- who was born in Jordan -- to a 15-year prison term.

As news emerged of the largely symbolic sentencing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose whereabouts are unknown, his al-Qaeda in Iraq organization claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed a top anti-corruption official in the northern city of Mosul. Al-Zarqawi already has been sentenced to death twice by Jordan.

Sunday's events capped a week of rising tensions that included a protest in which Shiite demonstrators raised the Iraqi flag over the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad and claims by the Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance that Jordan was allowing terrorists to slip into Iraq. The Iraqi standard continued to flutter above the Jordanian embassy yesterday.

"Iraqis are feeling very bitter over what happened. We decided, as the Iraqi government, to recall the Iraqi ambassador from Amman to discuss this," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters.

Jordan acted first, when Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi announced his charge d'affaires in Baghdad had been recalled to Amman.

"We are hoping that the Iraqi police will devise a plan to protect the embassy," al-Mulqi said. "Meanwhile, we have asked the charge d'affaires to come back because he was living in the embassy."

He added that other Jordanian diplomats will remain in Baghdad because they do not live in the embassy compound.

Both countries said the officials were being recalled for "consultations," leaving open the possibility for their return.

Yesterday, gunmen in two speeding cars opened fire on an Iraqi army foot patrol in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah, killing one soldier and wounding another, police Captain Talib Thamir said.

The US military reported the death of one of its troops: a US soldier killed a day earlier during action in restive Anbar province, which contains the flashpoint cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

The US military also said yesterday that 10 men captured by Iraqi soldiers last week had confessed to staging a March 9 Baghdad car-bomb attack near the Agricultural Ministry and a hotel favored by Westerners.

At least four people, including the attackers and a guard, were killed in that attack.

The Iraqi troops who carried out the March 18 raid also seized two vehicles being rigged for detonation as well as four rockets and launchers, light weaponry, blank Iraqi passports and thousands of dollars in cash, the military said in a statement.

Shiites began holding protests after the Iraqi government on March 14 condemned celebrations allegedly held by the family of a Jordanian man suspected of carrying out a Feb. 28 terrorist attack that killed 125 people in Hillah, 100km south of Baghdad. Nearly all the victims were Shiite police and army recruits.

The Jordanian daily Al-Ghad reported that Raed Mansour al-Banna carried out the attack, the single deadliest of the Iraqi insurgency. The newspaper later issued a correction, however, saying it was not known where al-Banna carried out an assault.

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