Egypt's top envoy to post-Saddam Hussein Iraq has been kidnapped in Baghdad just weeks after arriving in the war-torn country, Egyptian diplomats said yesterday.
Two diplomats, speaking in Cairo and Baghdad on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Ihab al-Sherif was kidnapped late Saturday in the Iraqi capital.
Al-Sherif had arrived in Baghdad on June 1. In the middle of last month, the Egyptian government said it would upgrade relations with Iraq to full embassy status headed by an ambassador, but it was not immediately clear if al-Sherif currently held the full ambassador title.
The diplomats gave no immediate details on the kidnapping.
Egypt had withdrawn its ambassador in 1991 when it backed the US-led alliance against Saddam, after he invaded Kuwait.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi army battalion backed by US Marines will be stationed in Hit, making it the first deployment to regularly police a city in the volatile western Anbar province, military commanders said Saturday.
The new strategy is designed to restore order in the region and not pull back as in previous offensives in the area when US Marines would conduct raids over several days and then leave.
"We're not going to let [residents] down by pulling out three weeks from now," said Marine Colonel Stephen Davis, who commands the Second Regimental Combat Team. "We've got to pay attention."
Previously, there haven't been enough Marines to stay and police the vast Anbar province, which is near the porous Syrian border -- a main entry point for foreign fighters.
The decision for a military force to remain behind was met with a cool reception from city officials.
More than 1,000 US and Iraqi troops have been camped around Hit since Tuesday, when they launched Operation Sword to break up foreign fighter networks in the area.
US military commanders declined to say how many Marines would remain after the counterinsurgency sweep, though there has been a small US presence on the outskirts of the city for some time.
The threat of insurgent attacks, however, has prevented Marines from conducting regular patrols.
Sitting in Hit's courthouse, the mayor was not pleased when US commanders told him that a joint force planned to remain in the city, 140km west of Baghdad.
Mayor Ali Hamdi Nasir complained that the military presence disrupts everyday life. Stores remained closed and streets have been empty since Operation Sword began.
Marines shot and killed a driver who apparently didn't respond to instructions when they first entered Hit.
Troops have commandeered houses and schools to sleep in and park tanks on major roads, according to a reporter at the scene. When Marines could not break the locks on houses, they often used explosives to blow holes through front doors and gates.
The US military also said Saturday that security forces captured a doctor who allegedly worked for an al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, helping him plan kidnappings to fund insurgent attacks.
Safa Ali Chiad Mashul was captured during a raid in the Baghdad area on June 21, the military said. He was also known as Dr. Mushin or Abu Sayf.
On Wednesday, the government announced the detention of an al-Qaeda in Iraq leader identified as Samir Ammar Hamid Mahmoud, known as Abu Aqil. He was detained in Baghdad on June 26, authorities said.