Algeria's top diplomat in Iraq was abducted Thursday by masked gunmen, witnesses said, nearly three weeks after the group called al Qaeda in Iraq kidnapped and killed an Egyptian envoy and threatened to seize more diplomats.
Ali Belaroussi, the charge d'affaires at the Algerian Embassy, was accosted by gunmen about 100 yards from the embassy in the west Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour and forced into the back of a car, according to witnesses. One witness said a bodyguard was abducted along with Belaroussi; another said that only the envoy was seized.
"A white, late-model Land Cruiser was parked along the curb with three men inside it, obviously waiting for the charge d'affaires, who arrived in an embassy car," said a resident of the neighborhood who identified himself as Abu Ali, 57. "When the embassy car arrived at the spot where the white Land Cruiser was, the three men disembarked, carrying guns and pistols, and forced the charge d'affaires and his companion into the back seat of their car."
Because Algeria has not posted an ambassador to Iraq, Belaroussi is chief of his country's diplomatic mission here. No Arab country has sent an ambassador since Iraq's transitional government was formed in late April; the first was to have been Ihab Sherif, the Egyptian diplomat who disappeared on the night of July 2. Three days later, on a day when two other diplomats were attacked in apparent kidnapping attempts, al Qaeda in Iraq said that it had kidnapped Sherif, then announced July 7 that Sherif had been executed.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported that an American sailor died Thursday of wounds inflicted by an improvised bomb on July 15 in the town of Hit, west of Baghdad. No other details were released.
Two days after a Sunni Arab member of Iraq's constitutional commission was gunned down along with an adviser to the panel, members of his political group and other Sunni Arab factions that contributed members to the constitution-writing process gathered Thursday and decided to boycott the panel's proceedings until the government permits an international investigation into the assassinations. They also demanded that the chairman of the constitutional panel, Humam Hammoudi, rescind a pledge that a constitutional draft be completed within two days and asked the government to improve security for members of the constitutional commission.
The spokesman for the National Dialogue Council, a leading Sunni organization, said that no deadline had been set for meeting the demands, which he said were intended not to challenge the government but to improve the constitutional panel's working conditions. "It's up to them," said the spokesman, Salih Mutlaq. "Whenever they want us, we will be back."
Special correspondent Omar Fekeiki contributed to this report.