Gunmen opened fire on the envoys of Bahrain and Pakistan in the capital Tuesday in separate incidents that appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign to kidnap or kill diplomats from Muslim nations that have recognized the Iraqi government.
The attacks followed the apparent kidnapping of Ihab Sherif, chief of Egypt's diplomatic mission in Baghdad. On Tuesday night, an Internet posting purportedly from al Qaeda in Iraq said the insurgent group was holding Sherif, whose vehicle was found Saturday. The claim of responsibility could not be verified.
In another development, government efforts to draw Sunni Muslims away from the insurgency suffered a setback when the influential Association of Muslim Scholars rejected an appeal to support a religious decree calling for Sunnis to vote in the next election.
The new Iraqi government has been struggling to gain diplomatic recognition from Muslim countries, which officials see as a way to build legitimacy both at home and abroad. At least 16 Muslim countries have some form of diplomatic presence in Baghdad, but many have refrained from giving their envoys full ambassador rank.
When he disappeared, Sherif was scheduled to become the first full ambassador from an Arab country accredited to Iraq.
Laith Kubba, chief spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, said the attacks on the diplomats were intended to "scare the other diplomatic missions so that they won't expand their presence in Iraq."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, to offer help in obtaining the release of Cairo's missing envoy, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday.
In the past two years, insurgents have targeted virtually every group that they perceive as supporting U.S.-led forces and the new Iraqi government. At different times, killings and kidnappings have focused on truck drivers, police officers and foreign contractors. Diplomats have faced this danger as well; last July, another senior Egyptian diplomat was taken hostage, but was released days later.
No one speaks for the insurgents as a whole, so it was not possible to draw firm conclusions. But in Baghdad, many people took the assaults on the top diplomats from three Muslim countries within four days as a sign of another shift in tactics.
Hassan Malallah Ansari, the top-ranking diplomat at Bahrain's Baghdad mission, was wounded Tuesday morning when gunmen in a pickup truck shot at him as he was driving alone in an unarmored car with diplomatic plates in the capital's Mansour district, police said.
The official Bahrain News Agency quoted Foreign Undersecretary Yousef Mahmoud as saying the attack on Ansari was "an attempt to kidnap him." It was unclear how he escaped; news photos showed blood streaking the interior of his car.
In the afternoon, Pakistani Ambassador Mohammed Younis Khan escaped injury when gunmen in two cars fired on his convoy in the same neighborhood.
After the attack, Pakistan immediately moved Khan to Amman, the capital of neighboring Jordan. "The decision has been taken because of a deterioration in the security situation. . . . We will review this decision when we detect any improvement in the security situation," the Reuters news agency quoted the Pakistani Foreign Ministry as saying.
Russia's government also said that cars belonging to its Baghdad embassy were fired on Tuesday along the dangerous road between the city and the international airport. A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Moscow, however, said it did not appear that the cars were targeted because of their Russian status, according to news services.
A roadside bomb exploded 50 yards from the Iranian Embassy, but a witness said the explosion appeared to have been timed to strike a passing U.S. military convoy.
In other violence, four Iraqi women were killed on their way to work at Baghdad's airport. Gunmen in the Amiriyah neighborhood fired on a private minibus transporting several airport workers. One of the slain women had reported that "they were tailing us," said Alaa Sadiq, 39, who works in the airport's administrative office.
Also Tuesday, a U.S. soldier was killed and two were wounded in a roadside bombing northeast of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported, citing the U.S. military.
The comment from the Association of Muslim Scholars came a day after Adnan Dulaimi, head of the government's Sunni affairs agency, urged support for a fatwa, or religious edict, that would call on Sunnis to vote in elections and help in drafting a constitution.
Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, largely boycotted elections in January and make up the core of the insurgency that is staging daily attacks against U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. The new government is hoping to make them put down their guns and enter the political process.
A spokesman for the Muslim association, Isam Rawi, told al-Arabiya television that the proposed edict erred in setting quotas and failing to treat all Iraqis equally. Dulaimi "should have called for an Iraqi national gathering to include all the sides that oppose the current regime and its call for occupation forces to stay in Iraq for an indeterminate time," Rawi said.
But other efforts to bring more Sunni Arabs into Iraq's political process appeared to remain on track. The head of the National Assembly's constitution committee said Tuesday that he believed a draft document would be completed before an Aug. 15 deadline now that 15 Sunni Arabs have been added to the panel.
"We hope that the participation of the other brothers, who did not take part in the political process, will not be an obstacle in the way or a reason to delay the completion of the constitution," Humam Hammoudi said at a news conference. "That is why in yesterday's meeting, we decided to have intensive, wide and serious meetings to avoid disagreements that may happen among us or among the brothers."
Hammoudi said much of the draft has been agreed upon by the original 55 members of the committee, which included only two Sunni Arabs when it was formed in April.
Special correspondents Naseer Nouri, Bassam Sebti and Omar Fekeiki contributed to this report.